Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Interview: Chris Myers, senior copywriter on The Samaritans' Christmas campaign

Last week, I tweeted about a piece of direct mail from The Samaritans, an effective piece of creative which asked people for donations over the Christmas period. The campaign, produced by London agency TBCH, was created by senior copywriter Chris Myers and art director Tim. I liked the campaign and fired across over some questions to Chris regarding its conception and execution.

Thanks to Chris for providing the answers below. If you'd like to donate to The Samaritans, you can find them at Samaritans.org/becky/.

 What was the single minded proposition of the campaign?

Our planner, Dom, came up with the proposition:

"Even the strongest fall down once in a while. Will you be there to help them pick themselves up?"

Interestingly, it didn't mention Christmas - a little strange for a festive appeal. But this worked in the pack's favour - rather than just focusing on a single period of time, we were able to communicate the ongoing need for support. We need to be there for people every day, including Christmas Day.

Christmas is the busiest time of year for Samaritans. Whether it's because of money worries, loneliness or just the everyday stresses and strains of the festive period, nearly 200,000 calls are made to Samaritans at this time. One such person was the subject of our case study, Becky.

We needed to tell Becky's story in a sympathetic way that didn't portray her as a victim, but as a strong person who occasionally needs a helping hand. And we needed to portray Samaritans as an organisation that helps people find their way, their way - someone to talk to, someone to listen.

 Who's the audience you're targeting in the adverts?

The pack was targeted at a cold audience. Traditionally these are the unflatteringly-titled "Dorothy Donors" - predominantly female, affluent, older people. However, our cold audience also included anyone who has been directly or indirectly affected by any of the issues associated with Samaritans and wants to make a difference. Given that one in three of us will have been affected in some way with depression or suicide, that's a lot of people.

Why was this route chosen?

The pack was chosen because it married the timeliness of the appeal with the ongoing need for funds to keep Samaritans going 24/7/365. It brought the proposition to life through the story of Becky, while using it to dramatise the fact that so many people will call Samaritans over the festive period.

Any ideas that didn't make it into the final campaign?

We started out exploring traditional Christmas territories - wish lists, gifts, that sort of thing - but we wanted to have stand-out from the 'traditional' Christmas appeals. So they were swiftly jettisoned.

How receptive were the Samaritans marketing team of the creative? What was their input?

From proposition development to printing, this was a real group effort. Our account director, Jules, had a hand in crafting the outer line (much to the annoyance, but ultimately reluctant approval of the Copywriters' Union). The client provided an excellent, moving case study and helped make sure that the whole piece was on-brand.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Advertising Google Chrome

Last month, Google launched its latest push for Chrome with a series of adverts designed to showcase the many features of the browser and sister platforms. Google has a history of producing great campaigns to promote its services and I was particularly taken by this particular round of advertising.

Working in advertising, I was naturally curious as to the creative process that goes into creating a campaign for one of the largest companies in the world. With this in mind, I posed some questions to Simon Woods, the team manager responsible for the Google account at BBH. His answers provide an illuminating insight into what it's like to work with an online giant. Genuinely fascinating stuff and I'd like to thanks Simon for his time in answering my questions.

What was your role in creating the adverts?

I am one of two Team Managers on the Google account at BBH. The role is broad. It mainly involves managing a project (typically an advert, but we're working on an increasingly number of digital projects too) from its inception, through strategic and creative development to its final execution. Probably most importantly as Team Manager, you are the conduit between the agency and Google, constantly balancing out the sometimes differing perspectives and opinions to reach the most powerful work you can. I should note that I worked on the 'Second Chance' spot and my colleague, Lauren Blunden, managed the 'Satchels' film
My role in creating the latest campaign followed a similar pattern - working closely with the strategic teams to put together a sound business case and brief for the campaign.

As part of a well established campaign we worked closely with the BBH NY who had been instrumental in coming up with the idea for the spot. Once we had settled on a creative route we involved The Mill as production house who worked closely with our production and creative teams to bring the film to life. It was a great project, one of those jobs where everything seemed to fit together really well.

What was the SMP of the adverts?

Google Chrome's positioning has always been about the inspiring, extraordinary things you can achieve through the internet - it's less about simply demonstrating the functionality or boasting about the capacity of the product. Chrome and Google in general have based their whole business around providing access to the incredible resource that is the internet. Given the correct tools, people can do amazing things with it - our approach has always been about celebrating this. The end-line - the web is what you make of it - does a great job of encapsulating this, I think. 

Can you go into a bit of detail about the brief

Globally, Google Chrome is experiencing a period of growth and the main challenge for this campaign was to sustain that growth and hopefully giving it the final nudge over the line to become the country's most popular browser. 

Who's the audience you're targeting in the adverts?

Internet use is becoming so ubiquitous and with the goal of becoming the most popular browser in the next year or so, our target audience is always going to be very wide. That said, we targeted two main audiences for the campaign. The first is a smaller collection of relatively influential people who are typically already aware of Chrome and the capabilities, they might already harbour aspirations to create something using the internet. These people are also typically use the internet a lot - high levels of social networking, content creation and media consumption. 

Besides this group, we targeted a larger group of the internet enabled population, typically they're already pretty engaged with the internet and will likely have heard about Chrome from the advertising or from the former target audience.

I really like the personal stories in each of the ads - why was this route chosen?

It goes back to the strategy hinted at in the SMP - the product is about what you can achieve through the internet. The best way to convey this is through personal stories, not necessarily stories of success but stories that demonstrate the variety and power of the internet. For the 'Satchels' story (as with last year's 'Jamal' film) we used true stories and real people. This often makes for a much harder creative and production process but ultimately it means that the final films carry much more weight both emotionally and as an endorsement of the product and marketing message. We also hope it inspires people to get out there and create their own projects with the internet.

How receptive were the marketing team of Google of the creative? What was their input?

We're incredibly lucky to work with some great clients at Google. Internally, the company has managed to foster a great atmosphere of taking risks and trying things out.

As someone who works in client services you can't ask for a better approach to a creative project than that. Sometimes the nature of the projects will mean quite a lot of pressure on both sides to make big creative decisions and the approach we have adopted is to try and break down the barrier between agency and client almost completely. Both BBH and Google have made a big effort to dispense with the usual agency/client politics and work as a close team, making decisions in a collaborative manner. 

Any versions/ideas that didn't make it into the final batch of adverts?

Plenty! Coming from a tech background means that the default way Google will use to establish if something works is to test, test, test. Not disimilar to the Minimum Viable Product method a lot of digital companies use when developing products. This iterative approach makes from some great work, but it can be time and resource intensive and not everyone is comfortable working in this way.

Creatives in particular have to be prepared to be flexible and work through multiple routes until something sticks. Having experienced both the digital and industrial design worlds prior to working in above the line advertising, this approach is something I'm fairly comfortable with and, given the right circumstances, is something that I can see being of value to a lot of different brands out there.  

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Happy to Bed from IKEA

I tweeted about this last week, but thought it deserved a blog post all to itself. The IKEA Happy to Bed YouTube page is a lovely creation; utilising Facebook information to create a personalised bedroom full of IKEA products. It's clever, dead on brand and gently pushes the user to buy the items selected for them. Video below, but do try it out for yourself.

Monday, 3 September 2012

On curiosity

Curiosity is a wonderful thing.

It’s curiosity that lets us discover new things; that desire to rummage in the dirt for previously unknown knowledge, methods and approaches. The petulant voice inside your head that loudly demands, ‘I want to know more about this. Stop messing around on Facebook and tell me more about this.’

It’s that little voice that pushes us to learn more, the push that opens the door to new ideas and inspirations. It shows passion, fire and a willingness to learn more about your world (whatever that world may be).

NASA are great at naming things. Last month, the Curiosity rover landed on Mars to learn more about a giant ball of rock 249 million miles away. Its first achievement was to send back this glorious piece of Instagram.

Never stop being curious.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Thoughts on social media event coverage - National Flash Fiction Day

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of taking part in an innovative fiction project for National Flash Fiction Day. Myself, along with the other members of the writing group Flashtag, spent the day running across the streets of Manchester in celebration of the short story form, reading out pieces of our fiction in some of Manchester’s most iconic venues, including Manchester Museum and The Contact Gallery.

Naturally, given the nature of the event, we wanted to spread the news of what we were doing online. I saw this as a nice opportunity to promote the work of the writing group and, having successfully used social media to cover live events for clients in my day job, it seemed like the perfect chance to put those skills into practice for this particular event. The aim of this one-day campaign would be to get as much coverage for our activity, while also raising the brand awareness of the writing group as a whole.

I decided that we’d have several different elements to the social media content which would be produced as the day progressed. These were:

  • Twitter coverage - sharing general news, performance times and being the main distribution channel for all content
  • A YouTube account - sharing videos of the performances around Manchester
  • An Audioboo account - sharing audio files of the performances
  • The Flashtag blog

You can read the coverage of the day on the Flashtag blog, but I wanted to post some more general thoughts on here about using social media for event coverage and the best techniques I’ve found to keep content rolling out as easily as possible.


I wanted to get as much online coverage for the event as possible. During the planning stages, I selected performance locations which had a strong Twitter presence. We were lucky in that a number of the preferred locations had a really good grasp of social media but, while we primarily focused on performing in amazing venues, we favoured places which had a larger online influence; if we were lucky enough to get a venue sharing news and content, I wanted to reach as large an audience as possible.

Another thought about prep; if you’re planning on contacting a number of accounts on the go during the day, create a file of Twitter usernames on your phone beforehand. It’s a lot easier to copy and paste the relevant handles, rather than try and remember the account name when you’re composing a tweet on the move. I use the official Twitter app and its autocomplete feature can be a bit flaky at times, so pasting in the Twitter names of the venue for a message seemed like the easiest way to avoid hunting around the internet.

Battery life

The iPhone is a marvellous bit of kit. Its battery is not. And if you’re going to be using your phone for any sort of out-the-office campaign, you’re going to need to give your handset the occasional jolt of power. While I’ve covered exhibitions before - dashing back to a power socket every few hours to recharge the phone - the nature of our day didn’t really allow for this sort of behavior. There wasn’t time to wait for the battery to compose itself and I didn’t want to miss out on any potential content by sitting out other performances. I considered bringing my laptop along, but it would have taken a while to transfer the content across and I wasn’t convinced I wouldn’t drop it and watch it crumble into a million pieces on Oxford Road. An on-the-go solution was necessary.

In this instance, I plumped for the TeckNet iEP190; a portable battery which plugs into the socket at the bottom of your iPhone. The battery contains around 60 per cent of an iPhone 4 at full charge and, during the day, it proved crucial in keeping the phone running. Given the extent of the content being produced, it wasn’t surprising that the TeckNet finally ran out of juice at around 2pm (having been in use since 10.30am) but there was more than enough left in the iPhone’s tank to keep the content rolling out until 5pm. I’d definitely recommend it.

Automate your content

Automation is your best friend here. If you’re producing any sort of rich media content, you’ll want to host it on a different site other than Twitter (Twitter is ace for getting the message out there, but if you’re after legacy - people being able to find your content via search afterwards, plus the ability to embed material later - then it’s not your pal).

Automate everything you can. When a video gets uploaded to YouTube, get it automatically pushed out to Twitter/whatever channel you're using to distribute content. The same goes for Audioboo and Posterous. Here’s why:

  • Uploading content takes time. A three minute video takes around eight minutes on a 3G connection. The iPhone will do this in the background while you get on with making more content, but you don’t want to go back on yourself just to get the content out there.
  • Similarly, you want to minimise the hassle. It’s incredibly laborious to find a link to a YouTube clip, copy it and then paste it into a tweet. Save time and have the site push it out for you.
  • In this sort of situation, it’s difficult to keep a track of what you’ve tweeted and what you haven’t. Produce the content and forget about it.

Top tip: If you want Twitter coverage to be at its most effective, stick some usernames in the titles of the videos/Audioboo clips. Automation normally just uses the title of the content for your tweet. As a result, the relevant users will all get notifications once the content is pushed out onto your Twitter feed, making it much more likely for them to spot it and give it a share.

Keeping in the public eye

If you’re doing something quite cool and interesting (and are successful in getting the news out there), you’ll see Twitter go nuts. Shares and mentions will rocket and if you’re lucky, you’ll see your account name spread far and wide. But, news gets old fast and you’ll find that this chatter gradually dies off as Twitter gets saturated with RTs. The trick here is to keep buzz going through staged targeting and fresh content.

During the first hours of the campaign, I politely asked relevant Twitter accounts (the venues we were playing at, cultural accounts, Manchester-based accounts and techie accounts) if they’d care helping to share the news of the day (in this instance, a blog post) with their followers. A proportion of these messages were all scheduled beforehand so that I didn’t have to spend time doing it during the day on my phone (fiddly), so that I didn’t clog up the Twitter feeds of mutual followers (spammy) and so that I could schedule the tweets to go out at different times (thereby getting a constant stream of RTs from influential accounts throughout the morning).

Because of this staged promotion, the Twitter account for Flashtag gradually collected new followers interested in seeing how the day was progressing (meaning that, as the day went on, more content was organically shared without having to directly appeal to other accounts).

Furthermore, the account mentioned each venue we were performing at several times. While we got RTs for these general mentions, the subsequent videos and photographs of each performance ensured that most of the places we popped into shared any rich media later published online.

Offline coverage

Each writer spent the day running around with two laminate signs pinned to their front and back. The signs featured the Twitter username and the preferred hashtag of the event. This not only helped in making us all look like idiots, but also produced a number of tweets from members of the public. The signs ensured that onlookers, should they be so inclined, could easily tweet about the performances, sharing the crucial information - account name and the hashtag - with their own followers, rather than just composing a generic message about the event which wouldn't have been so effective in increasing our online footprint.

Other tips

  • Without a personal WiFi connection, you're going to eat through data. I used Onavo to try and limit the amount of data being consumed. It's worth a look.
  • Think about letting some local journalists know about the campaign - we had a lovely article in the M.E.N purely because we included journalists in the initial batch of user targeting.
  • Film videos horizontally. It just looks nicer.
  • Be prepared to spend most of the day glued to your phone. There won't be much time for socialising.
  • Look up from the iPhone when crossing main roads.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Masters of the social media universe?

A trip to the cinema is a Faustian bargain.

You understand that you need to pay for a ticket; it’s the price you pay to see the film. You understand that you need to pay for popcorn; it's the price you pay for eating sweet chunks of cardboard. You take your seat, the room goes dark and you understand that you must sit through twenty minutes of advertising before the film begins. It’s the price you pay for seeing The Avengers on a screen larger than the first floor of your house.

In those twenty minutes, you’re an advertiser's Christmas Eve dream; a captive viewer. The worst advert ever commited to screen could be shown and you’d still watch it. It’s the price you pay.

The social media audience isn’t paying and I think we all forget that sometimes.* The social media audience isn’t coughing up money to watch The Hulk smash things with his CGI fists; there’s nothing keeping them glued to your brand’s latest status update. If they’re following your company on Twitter or Facebook, it’s because you’re offering them something they’re interested in. Competitions. Product news. Customer service. Jokes. Content that’s relevant and content that adds value to their online lives. I think we forget that sometimes.

Social media marketing is viable because it gives businesses the opportunity no other medium offers. As a social brand, you live in their online life, your company seamlessly mixing with conversations from friends and relatives. Your message is constant. But it’s not permanent.

Unlike a film, a television programme or a magazine article, there’s nothing keeping a fan or a follower in their metaphorical chair. There’s no final dramatic act, no last-minute goal, no life-affirming article. Your online audience is there because they choose to be. And if you stop being relevant, if you stop adding value, they will leave you without shedding a tear. It’s the nature of the beast. They’re fickle and there’s nothing we can do to control it.

But it’s not just our problem to fret over. It’s Twitter’s problem, Facebook’s problem, Google +’s problem and LinkedIn’s problem.

Our fates are all intertwined. It’s just as easy to close a Twitter account as it is to click unlike, unsubscribe or unfollow. The online audience is fickle, opening accounts on Pinterest, Quora (remember that?) and Foursquare and abandoning them just as quickly. Users jump around the internet with a pogo stick and, without a time machine, it’s impossible to predict if May’s social network will still be the flavour of the month in June.

But it’s the nature of the beast we’re dealing with. Social media is free and we can afford to be fickle with the things given to us without purchase. We get distracted by the new shiny thing and the old becomes disposable; graveyards of university photographs and melancholic status updates last written in 2007. While the concept of sharing online isn’t dying off anytime soon, the sites certainly are.

It’s why we, as an industry, are so concerned with statistics. The number of registrations, the number of daily visits, the number of minutes spent on a site. It’s a damn sight easier to justify a campaign on a specific platform when all the numbers add up. A website without consumers just doesn't deserve the ad spend**. But we can't control any of this.

As advertisers, all we can do is pay attention and keep adding value. Our fate isn't our own and I think it’s time we all realised that we’re not the masters of this particular universe. I think it’s time we made ourselves useful.

*Of course, your personal data is the price you pay for using social media. I'd argue that users value money to pay the rent much more than their personal data.

**Of course, there are exceptions and campaigns on niche sites for a specific audience can be tremendously effective. But that’s not we’re discussing here. Maybe another time.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Thoughts on the mobile-fiction genre

‘Detective Saunders?’ the woman asks as you answer the phone.

‘It’s my sister, Meryl. She’s gone missing. I need your help.’

After stumbling across Zombies, Run, the running-slash-fiction app, a few week’s ago, I’ve been giving some thought to the mobile-fiction genre. It's got me all excitable.

Zombies, Run offered you an interactive experience. And it was brilliant; you ran, the story progressed. Since then, I’ve been ruminating on where the genre can go next; what other fiction experiences can you offer with just a phone, a GPS signal and a bucket load of cash?

And this is what I’ve come up with. Any notes are in brackets.

The app puts you in the shoes of Detectie Saunders, a hard-boiled investigator. You haven’t had a case for weeks. And then the phone rings.

(The Heist, a simple iPhone app, offers the same sort of feature. During the game, you ‘get a call’ from a thief named Sophia. It’s automated, but adds a nice experience to a fairly standard puzzle game).

The woman on the phone offers you a case. Her sister, a fairly prominent socialite, has gone missing. You, Detective Saunders, must find her.

The sister was last seen in a museum. As you walk towards the museum to hunt for clues, your phone rings. It’s an old partner of yours. He has a new case for you.

(Detectives always have two cases on)

You put it out of your mind. Enter the museum. Pull out your phone and inform the client that you have arrived.

(via a Foursquare check in)

The game informs you that you have found a clue; a box of matches on the floor with an address of a bar, close to the museum, scrawled on the side. You check into the bar, redeem the 50% off cocktails voucher exclusive to the app, and receive another clue and another location. Meet a contact in the park by 3pm.

(Of course, you wouldn't actually be meeting anyone, although I like the idea of a time-sensitive user action)

‘I had no idea what I was getting myself into,’ gruffly narrates Saunders as you walk to the next location.

The case is on.

And that’s about all I’ve got. Again, I’m just throwing ideas to the wall and seeing what sticks, so I haven’t considered the technical and practical implications. On reflection, it's probably a bit too complicated for your average user. Still, it's always fun imagining what could be.

And really, I just want someone to build this so I can pretend to own a detective agency.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Zombies, Run! iPhone app - you've got red on you

I run. At best, it’s a chore. At worst, a bore; a necessary and thankless task which gets in the way of much more entertaining pursuits. Like cake. Still, Much Smarter People have explained that exercise is good for me and I’ve been advised that a regular jog will help stave off heart disease, obesity and that rattling sound which starts up in my chest after a few flights of stairs.

Previously, I’ve used the Nike+ app to keep track of my meager progress; a swish, if slightly soulless programme which charts your run via GPS. It’s efficient, intuitive and, if you’re a serious runner, a comprehensive bit of kit. But it’s no fun. Or, at least, not as much fun as being chased down the street by a mob of shambling zombies.

Zombies, Run! is an app for the iPhone which provides a more interactive experience while you run; a piece of software which offers an innovative blend of exercise and storytelling.

It’s the end of the world. Zombies have run riot and humanity hangs on a thread. You’re no longer running for your health or well-being. You’re running because it’s your job to keep people alive.

The app sees you play the part of Runner Five, a member of a small colony clinging onto existence by its fingertips. Like other apps on the market, you load Zombies, Run! as soon as you take your first steps out into the cold. That’s pretty much where the similarities with other running apps end.

Each bout of exercise takes the form of a ‘mission’, a story which plays out while you jog. The tale progresses via dialogue from the various characters in this dystopian world; a nervous radio operator in the settlement, fellow runners and other survivors you find along the way. There’s a clip from one of the earlier missions embedded below.

Each episode sets you up with a premise (collect supplies, rescue a stranded child, lead away a pack of zombies) and clips progressing the narrative slip in between your traditional running playlist. Each mission last around 20 minutes and, occasionally, you’ll be asked to pick up the pace as a zombie stumbles into your path. As a motivational tool, running for your virtual life is without par.

But, in order to progress the narrative you'll have to go out running again. And you’ll want to. Unlike other apps, Zombies, Run! gives you a tangible reward for your lap of the block; the story progresses, characters reveal their motives, a shady conspiracy is revealed. It’s a unique way to get you back into your running trainers.

Of course, it’s not the only app on the market to dish out rewards for a successful burst of speed. The aforementioned Nike+ is a solid piece of work which has some nice social media integration (including Path) and also includes motivational audio clips from the likes of Lance Armstrong and Paula Radcliffe. Get Running and the British Military Fitness App also provide the same feature, albeit without the celebrity cameos.

Still, what makes Zombies, Run! interesting is that it rewards you in a different way. Rather than just giving you a pat on the back at the end of a jog, the app provides you a real incentive to get back onto the streets. It’s a testament to the strength of the story and the textured characters that you’ll want to continue exercising just to hear the next chapter in the tale.

They're coming to get you Barbara.