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Category Archives: Stupid

The failure to explain

In the wake of the recent UK elections for members of the European Parliament, I am unbelievably fed up of hearing that the rise of undesirable parties is the fault of non-voters.

All. The. Fucking. Time.

All. The. Fucking. Time.

It is not.

I am fed up of being told that if I don’t vote I am not entitled to an opinion.

I am.

Let me be clear – I have an opinion, and I am not going to stop having one because you believe that you have the right to tell me what you think I should do about it.

There are two strands here which bind together in an ever-quicker plunge into a vortex of dumb that will doom us all. Not that I want to over-cook it, but I mean it this time – this is the stuff that is going to fuck us right up… The first strand you know, already. C’mon, deep down you know it. And you know it isn’t just you or me. It’s the people you’ve been listening to, too. C’mon, it’s OK. We can let it go. Together.

1. The trend towards “I KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT SO YOU SHUT UP”

You do not know what you are talking about. You looked something up on Google. You listened to a friend’s rant in the pub; you read something by that columnist you like. You took an opinion – someone’s interpretation of the facts that they arranged into a pleasing narrative – and you made that opinion your own. I do this all the time and so do you.

To pick a UKIP topic, everyone has an opinion on the EU. Do you know what makes it work? Why it exists? Do you even know that some of it might function adequately and appropriately? Or have you only been listening to all the fun, easy-to-remember bits about stupid rules and corrupt bureaucracies?

Seriously, this woman was a freak with a vision of a world that ignores what 90% of the population are actually like. And people adopt her narrative as if it's the only thing in the world worth listening to.

It’s always at least partly Ayn Rand’s fault.

What’s your take on the effect leaving the EU would have on the UK economy? What do you think about tax cuts? Interest rates? House prices? Perhaps you completed your PHD in economics after a decade of study and research and followed it up with a decade of experience in practically applying it to be able to deduce an adequate opinion.

No? Oh, so you have an economics-based background of some sort, right? Or perhaps, at least, you’ve read a good few of the classics of economic literature? You read quite a bit about economic theory other than just leader columns in newspapers or leaflets that came through the letterbox? Maybe just a few contemporary thought-leaders in… wait – hang on, I get the feeling you never did any of those things. Why do you think your opinion is valuable again? Have you checked it against the leading opposing argument to see how it stacks up? No?

Fuck off, then.

We all follow up the tendency to think we know what we’re talking about but this is going beyond mere debate and exploration and delving into deep pools of madness.

So, the latest round of politically and morally bankrupt narratives surrounding immigration and the time-honoured tradition of blaming Johnny Foreigner for everything comes around again. Never mind that nobody really knows any of the immigration facts; never mind that the reality of the economy is that it is made of many complex threads which can barely be affected by governments and policies, dependent as they are on global circumstances beyond our understanding.

Instead, people buy the pleasing, easy-to-understand narrative. And because it is pleasing, because it “chimes” they will tell you that they “know what they know and shut up.” The power of the narrative has become all-encompassing.

If the narrative sounds right to you, it must follow that it is right.

This brings us to strand 2:

2. “The Failure To Explain”

Go on, tell me why free education is important. Then tell me about the importance of healthcare. Tell me why the banks shouldn’t pay bonuses; later, you can give me your explanation of why Michael Gove is an arse or Ed Miliband is whatever he is or why Nick Clegg is just a house-can’t-use-that-word-any-more. Then you can explain why you can’t use “that word” any more, right?

Offensive? Maybe. But not as offensive as enabling the most ideological parliament in recent UK history despite that party's ideology having been voted for by a minority of the population. Good work, Lib Dems!

Nick Clegg, yesterday. Just helping out the massas.

Except for the most part, you can’t.

Because either you actually don’t have a cogent argument (because it is a belief you have grown up with and adopted – see above) or because you don’t have the ability to communicate with your audience.

Try explaining why welfare or taxation are important to a 14 year old at the bus stop. Or maybe just someone who isn’t as middle class as you are. No fucking chance, mate. Then try it with someone just as middle class as you are. Then, when you’ve listened to them drone on about whatever version of the narrative they last heard on 5 Live / Radio 4 / Match of The Day, you can deduce that there is no substance whatsoever. Mainly because they can’t quite remember the exact words, the salient points, just their own slightly corrupted, waffly and inconsistent version. They don’t have to try hard to remember these things because “I KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT SO YOU SHUT UP.”

These issues were important 50 years ago because people had lived through the circumstances these policies were designed to eradicate. Now the same people these policies are meant to help no longer realise or understand that they affect them. They have no idea. And you are not helping.

Bankrupt and dead ideologies – party politics and religion alike, philosophies that were imagined to explain an era long in the past, are simply not equipped to adopt to change. And like it or not, the world always changes. And it is changing quicker than ever.

But when you combine the polarisation – which comes as a result of everyone thinking they are right without the need to hear another side to the argument  – with the failure to properly explain their own argument, then GUESS WHAT! People just drop both sides. Or take the easy argument that appeals. The pleasing narrative, the one they actually understand.

Voting? Fuck off. The old jokes of “the government always wins” are writ large; they all end up tasting like shit – just slightly different flavours of shit. A choice between a big plate of shit and a big plate of shit with extra cheese is not a choice. You want some shit? No? But it’s got extra cheese!

You want me to vote? Explain why. Explain what you have that is meant to be appealing to me and my values. Maybe explain why I should have any values at all. A lot of talk based on opinion polls is just politics, not government. There is no choice, so why choose?

The illusion of this kind of choice and why people get involved is something I wrote about a long time ago in a music magazine far, far away. At the time it was all “Kylie vs. Posh Spice” and “Blur vs. Oasis.” If you’d asked me if I liked Kylie I would have said no. Likewise for Posh. But ask me which one I’d prefer and suddenly I have to make a choice. I didn’t like either, but I did feel the need to choose. The same went for Oasis and Blue – the implicit polarisation in the question drove people to choose and this helped both sides’ record sales. Disinterested fence-sitters became fans. Nice trick. Behavioural economics at work, right?

Well, I fucking hated all 4 of them. And I wouldn’t have voted for any of them, either.

This, of course, is where people step in and say “But you need to vote for those guys – or those other guys will get in!!” So let me say this straight:

If the best reason you have for someone to vote for your party is that the other guy is shit then you have nothing worth voting for.

You are the Dave channel, showing the Top Gear rerun for the 3098th time, knowing full well that you will pick up sufficient viewers who will choose you as the least-shit thing on. And that will do. You know people won’t just shut the TV off – just like Labour and Tories,  Republicans and Democrats; they know you won’t shut off their bullshit game, either.

But the game has changed.

The masses are people you do not know. I see them in the data I work with, but they are practically unrecognised in the media. UKIP tipped the nod to many who may be unengaged with politics, but they still had to be registered to vote and know what to do. There really is a silent majority out there and they do not know how to vote or – most importantly – why the hell they should. And I’m not talking about underclasses or squeezed middles or any of that narrative-driven crap. I’m talking about all kinds of people who are out there living their lives without any reference to newspapers or news programmes, Westminster or whatever.

With thanks to a random B3ta user whose name I could not find

Plane-crashing twat.

They don’t vote because nobody has ever given them a good reason why they should. If you don’t know what it’s like not to have free education, you don’t know what it’s like to want it. If you didn’t live through polio epidemics you probably don’t have an idea what it’s like to see your friends die. The explanations that worked for generations that did experience those things are not going to work for those that did not.

The arrogance of people going around telling them that they know they should vote, that people died for it, that not voting causes cancer – whatever narrative works for them, huh? – you really think that’s going to work? That the world will change because of such weak premises?

When voter turnout is so low, when the debate is so criminally under-informed, it is time to hit the reset button. The old arguments are done; they are boring; if they are important, they need a rewrite and a re-representation. But if you are clinging to the current crop of political parties, you are the problem. You are just a ripple in the far reaches of the pond, far from where the original rock was dropped, the last dribbled smear of a once-joyful but long-spent ejaculation.

You have a point of view? EXPLAIN. Convince me using evidence you came up with through investigation, checking facts, using experience you have actually earned. Stop bullshitting based on other people’s bullshit.

But tell me again that my failure to vote for your favoured shitty candidate is responsible for whatever ills you perceive in society and watch what response you get. I assure you, it won’t be an especially democratic one.

The failure to explain is everywhere.

And that is the real threat to democracy.

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Look at all the lovely things a link spammer says

When a notification arrives in my inbox to approve a comment, it’s often just a link spammer.[If this practice is unknown to you, people do it purely in the hope that (a) someone might read the comment and click the link to their profile / direct to their blog, leading them to whatever sorry sack of crap they’re peddling and/or (b) in the hope it helps their search rankings. Meh.]

Anyway, the latest is a joy as this particular brain-dead moron seems to have pasted every single one of their comments into one post. Obviously they keep them all in a text file and then cut and paste as needed. So, in case you’re stuck for a comment on someone’s blog, just choose from those below and you’re good to go.

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The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: debunking marketing bullshit since 1968

Segmentation. It’s been part of marketing for eons, but now the age of Big Data is bringing it all into a new level of efficacy. And bullshit, obviously.

Obviously.

Obviously.

But what do such terms mean? Segmentation means working out who your audience is so you can advertise to them more effectively – splitting them up into segments so you can pick the message that’s most relevant to each one rather than a “one size fits all” approach.

Big Data? Your company collect loads of data and has done for years: from purchase information to website analytics, email addresses to birthdays and anniversaries. And now you want to use it, but there’s so much of it you don’t have the manpower to sift through it all. So you need software to do it for you and come up with the insights you need to be more effective.

So put those two things together and you have loads of data which should help you understand your customer better to inform your marketing and product decision-making processes.

That’s the theory, anyway.

Now, marketing types love a bit of segmentation. It’s always in the top 3 of management consultants recommendations when they don’t know what else to suggest: “Perhaps it’s time to segment your database?” is right up there with “ Let’s look at a loyalty programme” and “We should consider retargeting as an online marketing tactic.” It all sounds lovely when spoken authoritatively and with a big folder of research statistics to hand to make it look like it’s all based on sound evidence, of course. But does it actually work?

"Wrestle poodles... AND WIN!!"

“Wrestle poodles… AND WIN!!”

Well, yes, actually. It isn’t controversial to say that well-targeted messages  perform better than poorly-targeted generic ones. But there is often something missing – a soul. The hidden extra factors that make something human are not always revealed in data because – despite what neuro-marketers wish you to believe – we simply don’t understand everything about how the human mind works. As such, expensively-produced marketing that works by the numbers can – and sometimes does – still fail.

And so to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band. For the unfamiliar, an acid-drenched muso-fest of a band, public schoolboys who got beaten up during sports lessons but excelled at music; classically-trained bods who, through a love of comedy, eccentricity and, erm, psychedelic drugs, somehow uncovered many fine truths about what it is to be British that still hold up some 40 years after their heyday.

I had heard the song “Urban Spaceman” a thousand times before it suddenly clicked what it’s really all about. The 1960s saw advertising take off in whole new directions, along with the increase in media space to deliver it. And so, the song was a paean to these characters seen only in adverts – beautiful superhumans beyond reproach, not a human flaw amongst them.

Only the last line of the song reveals the truth – I’ll leave the punchline to them. And marvel at how a bunch of very fine musicians with an odd sense of humour realised it long before the rest of us.

 

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WTF is wrong with agencies?

[This post was first published on Imperica here]

So, you walk into a room full of the brightest and best that agencyland has to offer, a collection of the digitally-enthused and passionately adept, charged out by their agencies for hundreds, even thousands of pounds a day, all in a room to share knowledge and swap best practices.

And then you realise that there’s a surprising common factor – a lot of them appear to be dumb.

The clue comes from the presentations; one is essentially a series of links, as if a bunch of digital heads don’t have any other way of sharing such things, as if Twitter, Stumbleupon, Reddit and, y’know, email groups never existed. Another presentation lays out the revelation that stories have – I kid you not – a beginning, middle and end. This revelation causes much scribbling of notes, swiping of iPads and, yes, even tweeting. I look around me and think: is this it? A stone’s throw from “Silicon Roundabout”, the much-vaunted (by politicians, anyway) digital tech hub of London, where all the cool smartarses should be and it’s just… not San Francisco.

This is only one of a number of occasions recently when I’ve looked at agency staff doing, y’know, stuff and thought “Why do you exist?”

Account team to the rescue

Why do clients hire agencies anyway? Why, if you run a business and employ staff, do you need to bring in an external company to do bits of your business? The answer is that agencies are supposed to be better at certain things than you are. You hire in specialists to do work that can’t be completed internally to the same standards. Simple, right?

At least, that’s how it should be. Digital has been like this for a while – once the preserve of unemployable nerds, later the territory of the whizzkids and geniuses, but always an area where clients were lacking in knowledge and / or experience. Why? Well, often, it was an age thing. Marketing directors and other senior stakeholders were of an age where they hadn’t grown up with the internet and weren’t enthused about it. 10 years ago, people were still debating whether or not they should even have a webpage (mind you, a couple of weeks ago, a large client of mine was still debating whether or not to have a Facebook page. Sometimes things don’t change). Agencies who needed to sell these services found the employable geeks and snapped them up on far better wages than yet-to-be-convinced-of-the-value-of-digital clients. They gave the unknowledgeable the option to buy a service with a set of deliverables attached; if you don’t understand what the work is really about, having a checklist of documents to be produced and webpages to be constructed allowed you to tick things off one by one, and assume you’d done your job.

And then people started to make money out of the web, and things changed again.

Suddenly, this stuff was deemed measurable in metrics normal non-digital people could understand. Did we make a return on our investment? Are we selling things through our website? The demands on agencies changed – and agencies changed to meet those demands. Instead of “digital strategy” meaning “what colour should our website be?” it became “does our web stuff help meet our business objectives?” and so new kinds of planners and strategists were needed, ones that understood the workings of businesses more than just the workings of marketing.

At this point, the advertising agencies who had successfully sold in the notion that the web was just another billboard, somewhere to extend the “above the line” creative, a place to put pretty pictures from the real world in front of consumers (just in smaller boxes)… they began to look, well, a bit shit.

Digital engagement is not like advertising – there is very little value in engagement alone. Whilst you may get a bit of all the above-mentioned metrics, if you don’t give an end user something to do you’re missing an opportunity – that might be the opportunity to engage in conversation (two way communication breeds better engagement than just getting people to watch a film or an animation or read some text), or it might be to drive people to a web or social media page with a stronger call to action, to sign up, to contribute, to purchase. But it’s not just that it’s an “opportunity” – it’s that these are things people want to do online. Passive viewing and sucking up marketing doesn’t cut it. And this kind of activity is more measurable than “how many eyes walked past our poster.” Analytics will tell you exactly what response something got.

And then there’s the user. Digital requires more understanding of individual users’ needs because people do more things in digital than, say, when they’re walking past a poster or watching the telly. They search, they research, they talk with friends about things they like, they shout at brands they hate, they create and distribute, influence and are influenced. And they often do it by themselves in a room with a screen. Advertising & PR have to talk “one to many” – so advertising a product on TV to millions in the hope you hit 2 or 3 target markets means finding messaging that works across all targets; digital has an element of the same but often requires a more individual approach, understanding that it’s just you and the user communicating, albeit in a context of more people / friends / followers etc.

"Yeah, sorry, gotta dash, got a client meeting in 20 minutes, gonna sell them some elephants."

This puts the ball in the court of the strategists. Where great advertising planners of the past were often a mixture of creative instinct, sharp minds and bucketloads of experience, digital planners and strategists need a mix of those things plus one all important element: evidence. That means that you can prove what you say; charm and a few lunches might sell something in to the client, but it won’t sell it into the punter. Smart agencies now buy into psychology, anthropology, data and research. And strategists & planners need to be able to help turn all of that into yer actual real stuff on the other end.

For a while, digital people looked pretty smart, then. The explosion of social media brought a new generation of socially-minded people who got lumped together under the “digital” banner and then… Well, I’m not sure the two are wholly related but there seems some correlation, if not causation. Social media seems much more sexy than “trad” digital because, hey! Everyone’s got a Facebook page and – bejasus! Some people have even tried that Twittering thing and it looks fun and so can’t we have one of those? Can we make it sell our widgets? … and so forth.

The less you know about a subject, the harder it is to be strategic. One of the stupidest mistakes of people in positions of “authoritah” is to assume that any job they’ve never done themselves is actually easy. Now they had a Facebook page, they were social media experts, right? Which is a bit like saying you read a paper every day so you know how to be a journalist. Marketing directors would start looking at social as a way of delivering campaign tactics – short term, marketing objective-driven executions; and the new generation of social media agencies have got fat off the proceeds. It was the Wild West all over again, and without much in the way of competition the fees were high and the audience easier to reach. There’s gold in them thar hills, and all that.

Now, things are different: everyone’s doing it. It’s harder to win. Real social engagement means a sustained presence; listening and responding goes further than just communicating – consumers expect companies to change when they demand it, and in the age of social CRM, they do. Marks & Spencer are brilliant at this and they run most of their social engagement from a small in-house team who know what they are doing. Who the hell needs an agency, when you’re the most-engaged UK brand on Facebook and you’re driving sales?

Proper strategy means knowing what businesses need as well as consumers – and over time, not just in the short term. Relationships mature, they aren’t always created in an instant. Knowing the whizziest of whizzy gadgets and gimmicks is not the whole game any more – but it is a part of it. If you stop learning every day, technology-based disciplines will always pass you by. This is the technological imperative at work – just because you know something about Twitter today does not mean you can answer business challenges tomorrow.

All this “smart, experienced people” schtick flew in the face of standard agency hiring practices. Agencies weren’t where a lot of smart people went, not outside of planning departments anyway. If you had a modicum of charm were good looking and had a nice haircut, wore the right clothes and kissed the right sphincter, you could get a pretty decent job. Smart people went into planning and strategy and were locked away in dark rooms. At this point, I expect a lot of agency types to be fuming, but, frankly, if they read this far they aren’t the targets (reading seems to be anathema to a certain type of agency person, long copy a distant dream). Anyway, the needs of the digital market brought in smarter people. Agencies who had never considered such things as, y’know, how a business actually works, started to employ business analysts and consultants, whole departments sprang up that dealt with data and research. Anthropology, sociology and psychology became important.

So, what’s with all the agency dumb?

My theory: money breeds complacency. And complacency breeds poor hiring practices. The lack of competitive pressure which has allowed a whole slew of agencies to gain cashflow on the back of average work. So they keep hiring the same people they always have. They forget – or don’t know how – to look into social and digital expertise. In the ’90s you used to have to check that someone had “Microsoft Office” in their skillset; now kids learn that stuff in school. Just because someone has a Pinterest account it doesn’t follow that they know how to use it for business (and for an explanation of why social media consulting is almost dead for the same reason, see here). And if you don’t use it yourself, you sure as hell can’t check whether someone else is any good at it.

I keep wondering what it would be like if you got into a car for your first driving lesson and the instructor had a book open on his lap. “I don’t drive myself,” he says, “but I have an excellent book here written by some of the best drivers in the world. Now…. If you can…” [reads from book] “depress the clutch with your left foot…”

You would be out of that car in a second.

"Where to guvnor? Can you just put me 'and on the satnav? Cheers."

So why do agencies think it’s alright to charge people for the services of people who are reading from the approved text?

The trouble is, they all follow a similar trajectory. That complacency allows their competitors to nip in and point out that they could deliver the same work (a) considerably better and (b) considerably cheaper. Non-experienced people take longer to do the same work and they’re learning as they go – inevitably costs go up as quality suffers.

Agencies that want to prosper with digital and social offerings need to get their heads out of their collective backsides. Compete with Silicon Valley?

You. Are. Fucking. Joking.

 

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Why The Entertainment Industry Is Wrong About Everything Pt 3: TV’s Shiny New Things

In previous instalments I’ve dealt with the entertainment industries’ addiction to myths about piracy and how internet pirates are doing a better job of delivering sports over the web than some mainstream broadcasters. This installment is about how the lot of them are missing the boat when it comes to promoting new stuff: new TV shows in particular (although the thinking is similar with music that’s a proper kicking in an installment coming soon – the music industry have done enough wrong to deserve that one all to themselves).

The internet is not a “thing” per se; it doesn’t have a particular identity, it is not evil, it is not kind. It does not care, but it also doesn’t not care. We have a tendency to anthropomorphise things in rather a counter-productive way. This is why when Twitter came along, numerous credible journalists decried it as being mindless, noisy and self-obsessed whilst others were still blaming it for the London riots, terrorism and gayness long after they should have known better. In fact, it’s just lots of peoplelinked together. Alright, technically it’s lots of machines hooked up to each other, but it’s really just people. There is no defining characteristic when billions of people

See?

are grouped together. All kinds of very different people exist alongside each other in that group: from good to evil, blondes to brunettes, psychopaths to philanthropists, genius to music industry executive.

This linking of so many people leads towards the so-called hive mind, a mass of people thinking and combining as if one unit; then there’s the ability to see actual chaos theory at work – tiny ideas can become memes, spreading like the proverbial viruses and becoming so powerful that they can actually change behaviour. Such characteristics are, frankly, the wettest of wet dreams to marketing people. Remember, these are the people who want you to associate any positive emotion you may have with, say, buying a car; for them, somehow promoting the idea that washing powder may actually change your life is a career highlight. When people start to believe that their shaving kit is the “best a man can get” they really do buy more of them. So you would think that if you had a new TV show, then this whole interwebs thing, something which allows friends to share new stuff at the speed of light, would be marketing gold.

A wee tale from history. It is 1996 (I think – my memory is hazy). We are in our offices in Pudsey, Yorkshire, where we have recently installed THE INTERNET*. Our swanky new place has more wires behind the skirting boards than GCHQ and all so we can ALL access the internet. True, my machine has to be logged on for everyone to get a signal, and, yes, I have to redirect people’s emails to their machines (as there isn’t a way of everyone getting their email directly yet) and yes, true we are all sharing a 56K modem, but WE HAVE THE INTERNET. And this is very exciting. Suddenly a world of message boards and forums opens before us. Flash is yet to be ubiquitous, Netscape is the browser of choice, the animated .gif is but a pipe dream. Video? HA! Good luck with that – it takes about 15 minutes to download 1 whole megabyte so video is not on the cards at all. But we somehow manage to enjoy the South Park short Jesus vs. Santa. We are howling with laughter, doubled over the desk.

We are – I kid you not – reading the script. We have never seen more than a picture or two of the characters and don’t know which one is which. But we are sick with the laughing and can’t wait to tell everyone we know.

A friend in the US sent us a link to the script. We had never heard of it before, but you can be sure we sent it to all our friends on email too (probably about eight people we knew had email at the time, admittedly). And by the time it was shown on UK TV for the first time, we had amassed an army of fans-to-be ready to suck it all up. Like it or not, South Park was one of the first things I remember “going viral”** over the web. And none of us had seen a single frame. This is what happens when like-minded people are linked together. They share, they enthuse, they become an audience together, even though they aren’t in the same room.

This is what sharing TV programmes on the internet looked like c.1996. True.

But that was 15 years ago and we have progressed, right? Erm… nope. In fact, we are right back where we were. Keeping with the theme of childish, toilet humour, animation-based chortles, I was recounting an incident in “American Dad” to a fellow Hebe. Roger, an alien, goes on a date with a woman he meets on JDate, a Jewish dating site. It is an astute piece of observation and bitchiness. My friend has been on a JDate not so long ago, but he’s never seen American Dad and I want to send him a link so he can share in the laugh. He is thus primed for a bit of advocacy / evangelism (as marketers oft call such behaviour). But there is no such thing as a link I can send him, because either (a) any clips from said programme on YouTube or Vimeo have been removed for copyright violations, (b) there are no Google or other video search results that have it listed in the rankings or (c) the places where it is featured or ranked tell me that it cannot be shown in my territory.

The thing is, I know my friend better than the broadcaster could ever do. BBC3 may have bought the rights to the series, but their ads for it are restricted to the BBC network (and there aren’t many of them other than “Over on BBC3 right now….” style stuff). I know my friend’s sense of humour, I know this will appeal and I have the technological means to put it right in front of his eyes. But this is where our old friend “le dumb” has come round to play. I cannot do this. I am not allowed.

Here, then, is another example of ignoring audience demand to serve no particular purpose (or, at least, no extra benefit to the content owner).

The perceived benefit to the content owner is that they restrict the exploitation of the content; the original content owner will license the content rights to broadcasters in different territories – each of those broadcasters may also license the rights to some form of “internet broadcasts” too – and they don’t want to lessen the value of those rights by letting any old soul watch the stuff via an unlicensed channel.

This is understandable in one sense but short-sighted in another. If I own the rights to broadcast a show, I most likely make my money from  the advertising that I sell pre- post- and during broadcast. The short term view says “if people can watch it online, they won’t watch it on TV.” And that means they don’t watch adverts and I can’t make money from it. Understandable.

But look a little further ahead: For a series license to be renewed, it needs an audience; for it to gain an audience it needs exposure and / or marketing spend. True, some of the bigger series get a marketing budget to pay for TV trailers, a PR agency to handle the press, a website perhaps, maybe a localised Facebook page and more. But a “gamble” show doesn’t get that kind of spend. It may also get a relatively lousy time slot. Then, without the budget to hire outside agencies, the marketing becomes the responsibility of in-house teams at the broadcaster – and they’re responsible for “everything else” on the schedule; perhaps if it’s a show someone on the team particularly loves it may get a little extra love, but the likelihood is that it gets mostly reactive marketing – if someone emails asking about it they get some spiel, maybe a press pack or whatever, but very little active work will be done on it. The viewing figures are accordingly modest, perhaps it holds its own for ad income just about, but it doesn’t set the world on fire.

In my mind all this looks a bit like planting a sapling. Sapling grows branches, branches grow other branches, branches grow twigs and so forth. The web and its interconnectedness of everything makes it easy for new branches and twigs to grow. When I show someone a clip I know they like I create a new branch. It may yet produce some more twigs. Restricting that behaviour is like building a wall around the sapling’s trunk and saying “nah, we don’t need it to grow anymore.”

Fact is, if you want something to maintain a large audience, you need a depth of engagement. “Yeah I saw it, it was quite good” or “I Tivo’d it… will probably watch it at the weekend…” may not be a strong enough reaction to result in a 2nd week or 3rd week audience worth talking about. What you need then is the people who saw it and loved it to be saying “What?! U Mad? Did you not see the bit where the kid slapped the donkey with the kippers? Watch this NOW [link]”… In the first dozen years since my first internet pipe was installed this was a predominant behaviour. People sending each other stuff they liked, those people sending it to more people.

Which brings me to my next case study of doomy dumbness: MTV (not the villains here) and their parent company Viacom (have a guess). At the end of 2007 we got asked if we wanted to take a look at a brief from MTV that was toilet humourish, childish, rude, offensive. We were there in seconds. No, really, we actually worked across the road from them. And there was this odd combo of Warp Films (godlike coolness) with some damned funny writers on board and MTV who were prepared to risk quite a bit on it. It all revolved around puppets doing un-puppety things. Nods to Avenue Q, Meet The Feebles (and way before Mongrels). Moreover, and with a prescience that did not really exist at the time, they were into social media as a way of building interest in the show. And we had a plan.

This kind of thing is de rigeur now but at the time the idea of creating myspace, Facebook, IM and forum / message board profiles for the puppet characters was pretty out there. We couldn’t believe they (MTV, Warp & the writers) were backing us. We got three guys in the office to method act the three characters, behave just like them, respond to people, create their pages the way we thought they’d really look and do all this for a good couple of months before any content was shown or even any hint of it being a TV show (we figured people would work out that it was something like that, but people just seemed to ignore it and talk to the characters directly).

And then we dropped this little beauty into the mix (NSFW, language)

And off we went. I posted it from my personal YouTube account at the time as did the characters from their own pages. And off it went. Millions of views. Top of the video charts in UK, Poland, Germany, Spain, people translating / subtitling it themselves. It went, as they say, “viral.” [That’s actually viral as in people spinning it out to other people they know, because they know they’ll love it too etc., not pretend viral which is buying enough slots for a piece of content until people can’t ignore it any more.]

The time slot wasn’t brilliant – too late at night – and the marketing budget got cut before we had a chance to refocus. More stupidly still, no other channel in the group was allowed to show it for reasons I couldn’t understand. We could see the buzz from fans was brilliant but then things got really stupid: Viacom sued YouTube and the fallout began to reach the UK. And suddenly, any piece of content that Viacom identified as its own, YouTube had to do some heavy backpedalling, issue takedown notices and so forth – and that meant neither I nor my furry little friends could access our accounts, not without getting into a debate about whether or not we had the right to post the content. If this all sounds complicated then think of it like this: We were working for Viacom, promoting their shows, doing a very good job of it, only to have YouTube tell us to take it down because Viacom had told them to do it. The million-viewed, award winning vids were mostly deleted. Links that featured high in search results led (and still lead) to deleted clips. Branches got walled up and lopped off.

Once again, the people who did very nicely out of the entertainment industry, thank you very much.

OK, let’s leave aside the yays and nays of that little contretemps between the old media and the new and be clear that we understand that a whole company’s future relationship with a major medium (YouTube) shouldn’t revolve around the fortunes of one show. This isn’t about whether or not Viacom should have sued YouTube. But this is about the effect restricting viewing opportunities on the show had then and still has now for new shows. If you let people spread stuff, they advocate for you. The economics of allowing that to happen are simple – more fans means more viewers, more viewers means better advertising income, DVD & merchandise sales and so forth.

This recent article listed a load of shows that I would never have seen without t’internet. I have bought boxsets of several of them. And I have become an advocate for many of them. I have single-handedly converted people to Breaking Bad if it meant stapling them to the sofa with their eyes taped open and projecting it onto their retinae. Moreover, when some of those series finally make it onto some pisspoor Freeview channel late at night, I will watch the odd episode. And by watching it, I increase their audience; should more like me do this, they will increase in audience share and their advertising rates will go up. This addition of numbers to the audience pool seems like it might be a good idea.

The fact is, what passes for piracy in the common lexicon is often of vast benefit to content owners. Nobody is pretending that mass copying & distribution of valuable products doesn’t do some harm, but the entertainment industry needs to buck up its ideas and work out how to turn all this stuff to its advantage. Blindly shouting “piracy is bad” is ensuring they continue to miss valuable opportunities. And that’s just dumb.

Perhaps my friend will watch American Dad on BBC3 late night; perhaps he will, by chance, catch an episode that completely appeals to him. Perhaps, but I cannot help. I do not even have a script to send him.

 

 

*This has to be in capital letters because in 1996 having your own internet pipe was a REALLY BIG DEAL. We’d fax people to tell them all about it.

**Every time a marketing person uses this phrase a LOLcat dies. And a really good LOLcat, too, not one of those shit ones your cousin made with Comic Sans.

 

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Why The Entertainment Industry Is Wrong About Everything Pt. 1

The coming of the digital age should have been a golden era for entertainment and, for some, it was: Amazon, Facebook and others appeared from nothing to conquer the world in a few short years. But for others? A darkness descended on the giants of old… Major music labels, broadcasters, production behemoths, newspapers, games manufacturers – their revenues plummeted whilst demand for their products actually increased.

"It's all about a long-term vision."

And there was one reason, above all, for all their misery; one thing that set them apart from other industries that had reaped the golden benefits of the digital age: these giants were – and often still are – steered by people whose idea of proficiency in ‘digital’  languishes somewhere around the Casio watch on their wrist. These are people who have never really used the things they are meant to be mastering, people who are simply not equipped for the job.

This series of articles will attempt to explain why, as a result, the entertainment industry is wrong about (just about) everything.

The first thing to do is shoot down a few myths that are repeated in every sector – enduring myths that, through their luscious soundbitey-ness, have become conventional wisdom. These mythical narratives are harmful because they are so cognitively appealing that they have become the whole debate:

  • You can’t expect to get anything for free
  • Piracy is theft, like stealing from a shop: aka “You wouldn’t download a car”
  • Piracy does only harm for artists and other content owners
  • Illegal downloads = lost revenue
  • Once people taste ‘free’ they never go back to ‘paid’
  • Telling people about piracy in a ‘zero-tolerance’ fashion is the only way to stop it

1. “You can’t expect to get anything for free”

Proponents of the age-old adage that ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ point towards a truism: everything has a price. They are generally correct. But the mistake is to believe that the ‘price’ is always a directly or solely financial one.

We have many examples of every day consumption that – if not wholly free – are ‘free’ to use on a daily basis. We may pay a yearly licence fee for TV in the UK but (a) it’s only about £14 a month – compared to, say, upwards of £50 a month for Sky – so seems relatively insignificant to most people and includes payments for the whole BBC including radio, but more importantly it’s (b) not something you physically pay for on a daily basis.

Behavioural economists will tell you that because you aren’t paying for it there and then, it doesn’t feel like you’re paying. It doesn’t cost you any more to turn the telly on five times a day than it does to turn it on once.

Commercial terrestrial TV is a good example because it feels free. But it isn’t. In fact, commercial television relies on free viewers as advertising revenues depend on the size of the audience. The more people who watch, the bigger the fees advertisers pay. I can watch premium content on ITV – say Champions League football – and the cost to me has been subsidised by advertisers. If I watch a newly released film on Channel 4, it will have been subsidised (usually) by a sponsor who pays for a whole season of films, plus the advertisers who pay for slots in the middle of the film. The cost to me is that I don’t get to watch the film uninterrupted – I have to wait for the ads. If I want, I can buy the DVD or watch on a premium subscription channel and then I can have an uninterrupted viewing experience.

In other words, I pay a price but it isn’t directly financial.

The business plans of the broadcasters don’t depend on me paying them money, they depend on me watching. For free. It’s basic economics of supply and demand – the cheaper the price, the more people will watch. The more people watch, the more the advertisers have to pay them. This is true of radio, it’s true of websites like YouTube and Google, it’s true of me taking surveys to get free access to eConsultancy market reports. These things seem free to us, but our exposure to advertising is the price we pay.

So, the idea that ‘free’ is wrong is… wrong.

It’s vital.

2. Piracy is theft, like stealing from a shop: aka “You wouldn’t download a car”

Erm, no. If I steal a car, the owner of the car is deprived of it and cannot sell it to someone else to realise its value. If I download a song, the owner of that song can still sell it again. And again and again. It does not disappear from their repertoire. If I watch a film on terrestrial television it is the same: I do not deprive that film owner of the ability to sell it again. Digital products just don’t behave the same way as physical products.

You think people like visiting showrooms and being attacked by sharks with moustaches and cheap suits?

The fact is, for a lot of people the free downloading is similar to the behaviour in listening to something on the radio: a free – and thus slightly crappier – experience than the paid-for version. I don’t really like mp3s because I like hearing things at a certain quality that mp3s don’t deliver. I listen to digital music on the daily commute because even I’m not quite enough of a Luddite to use a CD Discman. But the things I love, I buy on CD because the quality is better. Some things I prefer to buy on vinyl (old punk and  reggae for example) because they were made for the format and digital doesn’t improve the sound. Not only has the entertainment industry missed out on realising the difference between ‘lost revenue’ and ‘lost opportunities’ but they’ve failed to recognise the value of the digital product – and priced it accordingly.

Simply, digital is, for many things, a worse experience with far cheaper distribution overheads – pricing it at the same level as the physical (or not significantly less) just overvalues the inventory. If you could download a car right now, it would be made of paper and need to be powered by wind and pedal-power.

3. Piracy does only harm to artists to and content owners

Ha. Funny thing – the most downloaded stuff is often also the stuff that sells the most. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Back in the very early 90s, before the internet was something people had at home much, I had Sky. I loved the Simpsons. All my friends thought it was for kids and I was loving the subversive humour and telling people they were wrong. Some people came round on a Sunday and would get sucked into the couch with a bag of weed or a beer and it would click. But I was obsessional – I used to record Simpsons VHS tapes on long play, which means eight hours of continuousSpringfield. I did this mainly for myself and my housemates as Sky only broadcast two episodes on a Sunday back then.

But over time, once I had sufficient stock, a trusted friend would be given a tape to enjoy at their leisure – and they would show it to their housemates. Over time, they too would become infected Homerphiles and so forth. As Sky’s broadcasting of episodes increased, so did my taping. People used to beg to be allowed to borrow the tapes. I can confidently state that hundreds of people in the Hyde Park area ofLeedsin 1991-94 were converted to the show through my piracy. And back then, we all spent money on the show too – not only did we watch the show on Sky and thus had a part in improved viewing figures / ad revenues, but we all had t-shirts, pens, stupid bathroom kits, caps, whatever. When my mother found out I liked the Simpsons, that took care of 10 years of Christmas presents: alarm clock, sponge, shower radio (yes, what of it?), bubble bath, greetings cards. Endless revenue. Multiply that by the 100s influenced by those pirated tapes. How’s that working out?

Years of lucrative brand engagement, thanks very much

And it wasn’t just those shows. Over the years, the sharing of pirated material amongst my group of friends that has led to people being converted to fans has included Futurama, The Wire, Treme, Family Guy, South Park, American Dad, Fringe, Medium (only the girls, obv.), Lost… just about every major show that hadn’t yet made it to the UK. And those people talked about those shows, became part of the groundswell of opinion that eventually influenced UK TV stations in their choices of imports (NB a lot of those shows were picked up much later than, say, The Sopranos or Game of Thrones).

Piracy can be pure promotion for some entertainment. We used to license records for release in Russia knowing full well that Russian rip-offs would appear in nanoseconds (official sales used to number in the dozens but they’d be in every shop in every city a week later), but the artists used to make money from touring and we’d share the revenue from tour receipts and merchandise. Good days. If you didn’t have pirated material ordinary Russians couldn’t afford your stuff, nobody knew who you were.

Recently a pirated PDF of a children’s book parody called ‘Go The Fuck To Sleep’ was sent round by every parent I know. What happened to the poor unknown title / author? They went to number one on Amazon.

And whenever there’s a study that shows the beneficial effects of piracy, it’s suppressed by lawyers and lobbyists for trade organisations whose narratives are not served by the idea that, say, people who pirate movies are also those most likely to treat it like an extended preview / tester for things they go on to buy.

I have discovered hundreds of games, movies, TV shows and bands from having a pirated copy that I then go on to buy. I know dozens of people like me. I meet hundreds of people like me online. I can see empirical research that supports this notion. So why are the people who could most profit from this knowledge also the people who are shouting loudest against it?

Because they are just not that bright.

4. Illegal downloads = lost revenue

Now, let’s be clear – there is a difference between making the above point and advocating that piracy has no harmful effects and doesn’t deprive – in some cases – people of rightful income. It does, and especially with smaller independent artists and copyright owners who don’t get to make the revenue up from other sources as much as the big guys.

But this argument is often used to back up the idea that piracy costs an entertainment sector £X billion a year and so forth.

This is a crude fallacy.

Supply and Demand is one of the basic elements of a free market and is lesson #1 in high school economics. If the price of something is too high, there will be lots of people willing to sell it (supply) but fewer people will want to buy it because it’s too expensive (demand); if the price is too low, there will be lots of potential buyers but fewer people will want to sell it at that low price. The smart move is to price your product just right, so that lots of people will want to buy it but it’s also profitable to produce. In other words, moving the price up and down affects demand for a product. See the graph below:

It's the economics, stupid

What the entertainment industry does is look at the demand for illegal downloads and put a price on it on a per-download basis – the price in the marketplace today. But those downloads are actually priced at ‘free’ – which explains why the demand is so high. If, in fact, the cost of getting that download was the market price, there would not be so many downloads. This is so basic that it makes me want to cry that anyone can have the gall to stand there and tell me that the lost revenue calculated this way is a real figure. It isn’t. It’s not even close.

This MPAA pdf is a good example. It twists the data to fit a point of view but has very little basis in reality – you cannot “lose” sales that would never have happened. This is not to say that there wouldn’t have been some losses – of course there are.

If the price had been 10p a movie download, and it was delivered easily, in an agreeable format and quality, you might have seen, say (just for example), 85% of those people choose the legal option. Had they done that, the legal income on the 5 billion or so movies it takes to make up their “illegal download” figures would be around $500 million. And suddenly all their maths-based hyperbole falls to bits.

This whole approach is unfit for purpose. And that’s not all. I don’t agree with him on a lot of his conclusions but Lawrence Lessig put his finger on the discrepancy between perception and reality as long ago as 2004:

“In 2002, the RIAA reported that CD sales had fallen by 8.9 percent, from 882 million to 803 million units; revenues fell 6.7 percent. This confirms a trend over the past few years. The RIAA blames Internet piracy for the trend, though there are many other causes that could account for this drop. SoundScan, for example, reports a more than 20 percent drop in the number of CDs released since 1999.

“That no doubt accounts for some of the decrease in sales… But let’s assume the RIAA is right, and all of the decline in CD sales is because of Internet sharing. Here’s the rub: In the same period that the RIAA estimates that 803 million CDs were sold, the RIAA estimates that 2.1 billion CDs were downloaded for free. Thus, although 2.6 times the total number of CDs sold were downloaded for free, sales revenue fell by just 6.7 percent… [So] there is a huge difference between downloading a song and stealing a CD.”

And that, as they say, is that. Yes, there are losses, but they are way smaller – and have way less effect – than we are being led to believe.

5. But once people have had it for free, they won’t pay for stuff right?

Wrong… so very, very wrong.

I used to hear this a lot in the music industry. In 1999 you should have heard the screaming. For a while the mantra was “once music has been free, people will never pay for it again.” And then, within a couple of years, there was iTunes.

iTunes gave people what they wanted in a format they accepted at a price they deemed reasonable. And if my memory serves me well it did OK, no?

Supply and demand tells you this – the price may be free, but everything from quality to ease of finding something to format is not well-served by ‘free’. iTunes does it better and punters buy it because of it.

The presumption is that people download illegally because they are either fundamentally criminal or simply don’t understand that content has a value. There may be a little truth in either point, but I’m going to let you into a secret : the real truth is that the vast majority of people download stuff because they want it.

And whoever makes it easiest for them will win. People pay a price for ‘easy’ – understanding demand helps you define “easy” and the basics of supply and demand should tell you what the price is.

"OK, but first we need to sue you."

6. The only response is “zero-tolerance” enforcement

Yeah, hard to believe this was a joke sometimes.

The funny thing about that Onion article is that in the 1920s and 1930s record companies got drawn into lawsuits against radio stations as artists feared they were being robbed of both record sales and performance income (they thought if people had radio they wouldn’t pay to see live performances. Here’s a good tale from 1935.

The problem is that the enforcement approach starts from a very bad premise: criminalising your potential customer base. If you want people to buy your stuff (which includes, by the way, your PR) then I’d suggest threatening is not a very effective of communication. Even if wholly justified you are going to become the bad guy when you sue a dead grandmother, a homeless man or a 10 year old girl with a disabled mother.  Most companies seem to hold the idea that they should be good guys with something valuable to offer to a consumer and would shy away from such confrontations – especially when the net benefit is, at best, a pyrrhic victory.

Once again, this is a failure to understand the nature of the market and its consumers. People take stuff because they can – and the legal options just aren’t as appealing in terms of price (yes, obviously), format, ease of search / discovery etc., i.e. ‘demand’. Reducing the demand for illegal content is not just about stopping the illegal stuff – it’s about increasing the demand for legal content. And if Apple can do it, why can’t these other companies? That’s right: because they’re idiots.

In the book Freakonomics, Levitt and Dubner (who seem to enjoy nothing more than poking economists’ bee hives with big pointy sticks and, frankly, good for them) tell the story of Paul, the Bagel man. He spent years selling bagels by dropping off a load at office parks around Washington, relying on the honours system for payment (i.e. you take a bagel, you drop your money in a collection tin). Crazy, right? Actually, no. It worked damned well. And better still, because he did it for so many offices over 20+ years, and kept meticulous records, he performed a huge economic experiment. 20+ years of empirical data about honesty. How cool is that?

In fact, he found that honesty rates never really varied much (there were some small local variations related to things like local unemployment etc) – the overriding statistical conclusion is that between 87% and 89% of people are honest. Eleven per cent of people are always going to screw you over and there’s nothing much that changes that. I can’t recommend reading the article highly enough.

So tell me – why concentrate all those resources on trying to identify and punish the 11%, taking down a significant proportion of sympathetic defendants from the other 89%? Why not use those resources to improve the service and supply to the 89%? For most entertainment sectors, i can’t see how it’s in any way a a controversial suggestion to say that if they serviced demand properly they would make more money from the honest majority.

In the UK, it’s difficult to estimate how much is spent on copyright enforcement every year but there are some expensive-looking offices and lawyers dedicated to it. There’s also talk of ISPs being asked to fund 25% of such costs – and that’s estimated at up to £500m in costs to the consumer (when the ISPs pass on the costs, which they will). That’s a lot of enforcement going on.

Sounds a bit like The War On Drugs to me. And that’s an unqualified success, right?

Enforcement doesn’t stop criminality in copyright any more than it stops criminality in the real world. It competes with demand, which will always be strong – people love music and don’t want to be kept apart from it. Fear of punishment isn’t as strong a method as convincing people of why you should buy legal. You can carp on about supporting artists, but when these messages come from companies with as much of a record of ruination and interference with artists as success, well, it just doesn’t ring true. These captains of industry, when at a different dinner engagement, will tell people that it’s the market which has the greatest effect on consumer behaviour – so why do they maintain the myth that enforcement can work?

That’s right: they’re idiots.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. But the pattern is clear – actions are based on prejudices and presuppositions rather than evidence or simple market economics – in some cases undue influence on market forces is preventing innovation that may yet become profitable. People who are not qualified to do their jobs often use other people’s opinions to guide their decision-making process, but that isn’t working for large swathes of the entertainment industry because the same personnel have now been institutionalised to believe myths about piracy instead of engendering good business practice.

Instead of digital heralding the golden age for the entertainment industry, it’s become a golden age for entertainment industry lawyers.

In other words, there’s too many people that work in the entertainment industry that are wrong about everything.

To be continued.

 

Next in the series: how they’re messing up sport on telly.

 

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Social CRM : A Guide by Business Cat

In my life of PowerPoint hell, I made the following to explain it to a client who I knew also likes memes.

(And if you haven’t caught this particular bug, as it were, try this definition and also a chart of popular memes here which attempts to explain them).

More Business Cat.

There is a lot being written about social CRM at the moment and most of it seems designed to sell software. It’s a lot simpler than that:

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2011 in Digital, Marketing, Social Media, Stupid

 

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