If you type “Google” into Google, you break the internet

Looks like this joke from the IT Crowd kinda came true today when Google flagged the whole internet as badware

low cost marketing viral

Squirrels, saunas and office flirts

I recently found two pieces of viral marketing that I commissioned at around 2002/2003.

The Office Flirt Test


The idea was to mash up the Excel-based quizzes doing the email rounds in those days and the “how sexy are you” questionnaires omnipresent in women’s magazines – no-one can resist finding out just how fabulous they are.

The fact that the generated flirt profile was 100% random (irrespective of the boxes ticked) just made it all the more marvellous.

Office Flirt Test was conceived and written by Jon Davie and myself. It cost £10 all-in (for the URL) and generated over ten million visits.

Disco Squirrels

The marketing team had loved the then-new breed of barmy animations doing the rounds (especially this one) and wanted to do something similar – again for Valentine’s Day . I commissioned Rob Manuel of b3ta fame to generate something that was both noticeable and loved-up. The result was the quite extraordinary Disco Squirrels…


Learnings I took from these experiences:

  1. Gotta make the sender look cool
    Virals only propogate if the person emailing it thinks the recipient will think them that bit cooler for introducing them to something remarkable
  2. Hard to repeat
    We tried to follow up the flirt test with something similar six weeks later. It went nowhere.
  3. Keep an ear to the ground
    Good marketing always taps into emerging memes – so subscribe to lots of quirky webfeeds.
  4. Push the boundaries
    Both of the ideas would never have got through blinkered management or focus groups. Sometimes you’ve just got to take a flyer. Remember – the great thing about viral marketing is that if it’s rubbish, no-one will know.
    I always loved this unhinged techno remix of the Michael Winner e-sure ad. At the time I was managing the Johnny Vaughan launch campaign and still wish I’d given our Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner ad the same treatment.
  5. Product viral
    Truly effective viral marketing is not something separate – it’s embedded in the product. A good example is how “sent from my iPhone” is appended to every email.
    The sender doesn’t mind the marketing message as it tells everyone “Look I’ve got an iPhone! Me!!”

Who invited you to the party?

Jonathan Ross and Stephen Fry hesitantly introducing Twitter to five million Brits will surely lead to more companies taking the leap into social media.

And no-one will care.

Simply ‘being on facebook’, ‘having a blog’  or ‘getting a Twitter account’ won’t make your brand cool. In fact, get it wrong and it’ll be brand negative – like your dad dancing. Wearing a baseball cap. On backwards.

This is not because new media is a voodoo understood only by the geekorati. Far from it. As always, it’s about applying brand basics to new opportunties.

1. Own the category

Good brands know all about laying claim to the broader territory they operate in. It shows confidence, assumes leadership and educates consumers and customers alike.

Let’s say you sell coffee. Don’t make your blog just about your product activity. That might be fascinating to your colleagues, but not to the rest of us. Broaden your thinking and write about great coffee generally. About the bean growing process, about the best home espresso makers, about the Sunday papers and capuccino moment.

2. Know your brand

You know that old exercise about “if this brand were a car, what would it be” or “if it were a film”? Well, you’re going to need to know the answer to these questions. Knowing your brand’s tone of voice and view on the world is essential if you’re going to convincingly take part in online conversations. Southwest Airlines and Dell are getting it right.

3. Be where your customers are

It’s good to have a forum on your website and engage with people. But it’s better to be elsewhere too. You should come across as passionate and really taking part in the community. Practically, this means taking part in conversations wherever they happen, not just on your doorstep.

Get involved in whichever forums your customers use, no matter who runs them. But that does mean genuinely making a contribution, not just talking up your products. It’s the difference between being a gatecrasher and taking beer to the party.


Bye George


Placed in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, Jan 21. Thanks to David Beath for the heads up.

business development

Is now a good time to speak?

In the same way there’s rarely a time when a flat tyre wouldn’t be inconvenient, it’s rarely true that “now is a good time to speak” when an agency cold calls.

Like most marketers, I’ve taken hundreds, if not thousands, of introductory calls. I respect the individuals who do this as it’s a tough gig, and I’ve often thought about what works and what doesn’t in my experience.


  • Read from a script. Don’t even have a script. Unless you’ve got Robert de Niro working your contact list, it’ll come across inauthentic and unconvincing.
  • Have the same play for every target. Delivering award-winning DM work for a midlands council won’t strike much of a chord with software retailers.
  • Be too chummy (“hello mate, how was your weekend”) or too flattering (“I know you’re a busy executive”)
  • Ask open-ended, over-familiar questions, “what are your strategic objectives for the next 12 months?”. They’re not going to tell you (and they might not even know themselves).


  • Get to the point. A polite, expedient manner acknowledges that the client’s time is valuable, but so is yours. That makes you worth listening to.
  • Know the brand and its issues. This means more than a quick Google, but a real think about what the client will be worrying about and why your agency is specifically, demonstrably suited to help – “we’ve seen this situation before and we were able to…”
  • Have an opinion. It’s OK to challenge and show confidence – just build on it and end up with a way forward not a dead end disagreement.
  • Be persistent. Much as I hesitate to say this, it is true that calling back time and time again works. Just do it with a touch of humour a tone that says it’d be simply criminal if we didn’t at least hear each other out
  • Have some work to present. There is nothing more powerful than already having work you want to show. “Don’t think us presumptive, but we’ve mocked up a campaign idea for you. Just give us 10 minutes any time this week and we’ll show it to you, no strings attached.”

the power of people publishing

I sometimes hesitate to bang on about how revolutionary Twitter is as a communications platform. It’s almost becoming a cliche, and lauding 140 characters of plain text can come across as an overclaim.

But when you see how the medium excels with breaking news stories like this (and thankfully, early reports are that everyone got off the plane safely), the potency of immediate sharing by anyone with a mobile – including pictures – becomes clear.

In the 7 minutes it’s taken me to write this post, over 2,100 people have posted tweets incorporating the word plane.


low cost marketing

Boob aerobics, the shag workout and 100 other classes not to write home about

January is awash with health and fitness products, often poorly differentiated, and all seemingly promising “new year, new you”. Yawn.

So praise be to gymbox for thinking harder and achieving genuine stand-out. It’s not the startling black/yellow visual identity or the distinctive product experience (live DJs in the gym), but the category-smashing copy that really gets noticed.

Finally. An ad about getting big and hard that didn’t originate from a Russian spam account

Whether you approve of the tone or sentiment employed, it seems pretty clear that this is low-cost, high impact and certainly against the grain. Hurrah.

gymbox leaflet


Copywriting above its station


Oops! I posted again

A-list evidence of the mainstreaming of social media marketing: Britney Spears’ people are looking for someone to manage her presence on Twitter, Facebook et al

This is no gimmick – it’s the right way to manage her reputation through engaging with fans where and how they spend their time. It also allows her to side-step media spin and position herself exactly as she wishes.

More traditional products and services must wake up to the opportunity and threat here – their brands are already being talked about on the net – they’re just not involved in the conversation.


Presidential sweet

With the best product pun since Salt ‘n’ Lineker, Ben & Jerry’s have scored some great pre-inauguration PR by renaming their Butter Pecan line to Yes Pecan – highly talkable and bang in line with the brand’s witty, socially progressive positioning



swap your friends for a burger

Contrary, social media savvy marketing from Burger King. De-friend 10 people on Facebook and get a Whopper



Trent Reznor – marketer of the year

Matt Mason has a great post today noting that Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV was Amazon’s best-selling album of 2008 – despite also being available as a free download.

Sampling has long been a valid marketing tactic, but giving the whole thing away and still expecting to sell it? And it working?? It’s a cracking anecdote and sparks some great talking points:

  • should companies with copyable products (including books, magazines and tv programmes) routinely offer a free option?
  • Is the trick to lure people in with the basic product free, then upsell them to an added-value version?
  • do people prefer to pay for things they value?
  • would this work as well (or better?) for products in less glamorous sectors?
  • Is the success of this promotional tactic repeatable or will it only work while a novelty?

In my mind it shows yet again that successful responses to market disruption are not always obvious or comfortable.

[update] NIN’s latest contrary tactic is to use bit torrent (usually the scourge of the music industry) to distribute acres of HD concert footage for fans to remix. Again – great engagement marketing