San Serriffe

On April Fool’s day, 1977, Geoffrey Taylor and Philip Davies, ‘Special Reports’ writers at The Guardian, featured a 7-page supplement on ‘San Serriffe’, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean comprising two large islands, shaped like a semi-colon, surrounded by a smaller series of islands.

The two large islands, ‘Caissa Superiore’ and ‘Caissa Inferiore’ (Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse) were described geographically and culturally “in the style of contemporary reviews of foreign countries, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the island’s independence, complete with themed advertisements from major companies”. The capital, Bodoni, was served by Port Elrod and Port Clarendon; the island’s leader General Pica, the south-westerly tip of Lower Caisse was named Thirty Point, and there is even a golf club at Port Baskerville. The dominant population are the ‘colons’, descendants of colonists, although there is also a significantly large proportion of the mixed race ‘semi-colons’. Further typographical puns included the city ‘Cap Em’, the ‘Shoals of Adze’ and Serriffean cultural highlights ‘The Ampersand (‘&’ sign) String Quartet’ and popular cooking ingredient ‘Swarfela’ (Printing equipment cleaning product).

David McKie writes “The impact of the seven-page survey was quite astonishing. The office all day was bedlam as people pestered the switchboard with requests for more information. Both travel agencies and airlines made official complaints to the editor, Peter Preston, about the disruption as customers simply refused to believe that the islands did not exist. Veterans of that time say there’s never been a day like it in terms of reader response.” (We should bear in mind typographical puns would not have been as widely understood before the mass dissemination of computers).

Indeed, the San Serriffe article inspired a secondary body of literature, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest hoaxes of all time – credited with generating the enthusiasm for April Fools Hoaxes in the media and certainly taking its place in the common cultural heritage of literary humour.

Well done that man.


@joeadamfry Officially featured on Bill Bailey’s Blog!

Yea, that right, my philosophical musings were featured in Bill Bailey’s Top 25 140 character essay challenge on the topic “Why we are the way we are”.

Read my entry, along with the other 24 (in alphabetical; not brilliance order, I hasten to add) on Bill Bailey’s Blog here

And then read the post below about Product Placement, it’s much better than this one.

Chris Hackley on UK TV Product Placement

Chris Hackley, Professor of Marketing at Royal Holloway, recently asked me to feature his article on UK TV Product Placement on I’d just finished eating a delicious DOMINO’S PIZZA and a refreshing can of COCA-COLA, and had some spare time (checking on my CASIO watch) before using my iPHONE to check my EBAY to find out if I’d managed to win my bid on THE BRAND NEW, FANTASTIC RENAULT CLIO…so jokes aside, here it is, Chris!

His paper addresses the fact that the Culture Secretary Andy Burnham’s recent announcement to leave Ofcom’s PP ban in the UK unchanged misses an opportunity to update regulations to the benefit of UK TV companies and viewers. This means, in effect, that, UK commercial and non-commercial TV will be subsidising American TV.

He outlines the benefits of PP on TV, saying:

“Product placement is taking an increasing share of promotional budget for brand clients because of its value and persuasive power. Not only are TV shows ideal vehicles for brands because they can portray the product in use, identified with celebrities and celebrity culture.”

Take a look at this clip from ‘Spiderman’ – I can’t even count the amount of brands in there.

But in real life, we are surrounded by Brands, so why not in films or TV?

Anyway, back to Chris’ article. From a commercial perspective, he argues that:

“British TV is awash with brands in both domestic and imported programming. There is already a thriving product placement industry in the UK. It gets around the regulations by giving branded props free of charge to programme makers…The UK’s ‘free prop supply’ system, though, has a number of anomalies. Not least, it means that UK TV channels receive no revenue for the placements, which appear in syndicated American shows. When these are aired in the UK on both commercial and non-commercial TV it effectively adds value to product placement in those shows at no cost to the US TV companies or their brand clients…The Ofcom ban results in a false market rate for product placement.”

He also considers the argument from a more ethical stance, considering the consumer perspective:

“The fact that many young viewers, in particular, are indifferent to or cynical about the putative distinction between editorial and advertising in broadcast media is not a reason to abandon the principle. However, the younger viewing public are, generally, fully aware of the commercial inter-relationships which obtain in mediated entertainment. They often assume that brands in the script, scene or plot of a mediated entertainment vehicle are there partly from a promotional motive, even though most brands in TV, even in the USA, are there by coincidence, for dramatic verisimilitude, and not by contractual arrangement…If all paid for product placement were to be allowed, viewers could make this very assumption by default.”

And concludes that:

“At a time when revenues are being squeezed the fact that the UK commercial and non-commercial broadcasters air syndicated shows from the USA means that, in effect, the UK TV industry will continue to subsidize American TV producers.”

The full article is linked here.

So what do people think? In my opinion, the discussion is summarised accurately in one of Chris’ statements: “Consumers are well-aware that brands cannot be allowed to drive the plot, narrative or cinematography. Movies that feature too many, or excessively obvious, placements are subject to robust mockery by audiences.”

One doesn’t have to take as extreme a view as David Lynch on the topic (see below) – but there is certainly an argument against PP.

Remember the discussion surrounding ‘The Island’, ‘Minority Report’, ‘Spiderman’ (see video at the top of this post) and more recently and arguably blatantly in ‘I, Robot’ and ‘Casino Royale’…my personal favourite being the line in the Bond film, synonymous with PP in recent years, where Vesper Lynd asks Bond whether his watch was a Rolex as it looked expensive. When he told her it was an Omega, she replied “a beautiful watch”. Nice – but is it shameless promotion or an attempt at more modal conversation? Channel 5 drama Neighbours often references popular culture in an attempt to appear ‘cool’ or more realistic (“I love that new Maroon 5 song…what’s it called…”), seemingly without particular commercial gain. As Chris continues:

“On the other hand, brands that are integrated into the narrative development can enhance the quality of entertainment by deepening the sense of reality or visually reinforcing the symbolism of character and action.”

Viewers are not stupid, but can appreciate the use of brands to increase programme modality. Further, with in-game PP (Eg on the boards surrounding the track in a racing computer game); and the rise and ease of digital product placement (where brands and products can be superimposed onto the show post-filming – so the products needn’t actually be therre in the first palce – for a really interesting video on this see this CBS NEW VIDEO (sorry couldn’t embed it) on the up, the debate will continue – but it still comes down to firstly the degree of modality evoked in the use of PP, and the way it is contextualized within the narrative / look and feel of the TV show, film or computer game. If, as a discerning TV viewer, you notice a can of Dr Pepper on screen and immediately feel the urge to go out and buy the reportedly misunderstood beverage, there is probably something wrong with you. But that is not to say it’s OK for brands to slap you in the face whilst you’re watching a show. The question, perhaps is whether you prefer this contextualized form of branding to a 5 minute ad break.

Right, I’m off to enjoy a nice cup of delicious PG TIPS and a mouth watering OREO. Bye!

iPhorest branches out to make first truly ‘living’ app

iPhorest, now available on the App store, means that users can now ‘activate a seedling both virtually and physically’ by downloading the app, growing a tree on their phone, and also as a result have the company behind the app, iPhactory, in conjunction with The Conservation Fund, plant a tree in real life and subsequently begin the regeneration of vulnerable wildlife habitat on the Gulf Coast.

The app is fun: you can dig a hole to plant your seed by using iPhones accelerometer, and create a storm to water your seed by shaking the phone. You can also view other iphorest users around the world. But mainly, the point is as surmised in the app’s copy line: “Not all apps need to be a killer. We’re happy to bring you one that’s living”.

Whether it will be successful or not remains to be seen. Thing for me is, a lot of companies are bringing out branded app content (think BMW/Audi’s driving sims, and recently Walkers Crisp flavour races…
Walkers Crisps
…but they are often of little value, and only really work as ‘FREE’ apps. But with a charitable slant on things, eg if the game has a purpose in the real world other than to drive a brand simply through awareness, if it relates to some sort of augmented reality tie in (perhaps in the iPhorest example you should be able to grow the tree successfully, and once this was done you could start again and another tree would be planted, thus increasing the longevity of the game and encouraging users to spend their five minutes waiting for the tube playing a ‘game’ which has consequence as opposed to one that does not); one that you could clarify its real world impact – then the value of this content on iPhone would surely be premium. A treasure hunt using an app, GPS, and the ‘real world’? An app where high scores translated into real life prizes or competitions? Who knows. But the current branded content is very basic. The nascence of augmented reality gaming, apps and mobile virtual/real play is something that brands should look out for and embrace, and is something I think agencies should be thinking about.

Now, I’m off to plant a tree.

Agencies, New Business, Opportunities and Blogging

Michael Gass over at Fuel Lines recently posted an article discussing the use of agency blogs as first point of call for new business development.

“Your blog is one of the most important agency new business tools you will find. It is becoming the gateway portal for an ad agency’s prospective clients. Your website is becoming more like an agency brochure or portfolio.

I’ve stated repeatedly that the key to effective new business tactics is consistency. For an agency to maintain their new business efforts when they are busy, is a chore. New business activities are usually the first things that are put on the back burner. But from my own experience, when you are busy is often the best time to step up your new business efforts.

Everyone has the same problem. Most agencies are busy. When I mention blogging to my clients, their first reaction is, ” They don’t have time.” But when they see the value of having a blog, how inexpensive it is and how the content created for the blog can be used in so many other internet applications, they are converted.”

I totally agree with this: some agencies have exemplary blogs that are useful and engaging, whereby clients, fellow practitioners or just people with an opinion can have conversations, which ultimately can lead to new business opportunities – or opportunities of any kind. Certainly, this is not the case if an agency blog is naval gazing, introspective or impersonal piffle.

I think a great example of how top do this well is we are social … the ‘brand’ of the blog, is the people. You can see their twitters, their posts…all under the umbrella of the organisation, with the ‘portfolio site’ norm reinforcing the front of shop ‘This is who we are, this is what we reckon’.

And as an aside – for me its not necessarily about New Business…its about opportunities in general; for beginning and building upon relationships.

Cultural Boundaries.

I had a fun conversation just now with Moe, an Iranian guy who shares my office. He’s Islamic, and had to ask me to borrow my water bottle.

Moe: [In Borat-style english) Hey, can I borrow your water bottle?
Joe: What for?
M: Its complicated
J: Then no, I need it
M: OK I need for to wash my ass after toilet
J: What you have to clean your bum when you go for a poo?
M: Yes it is my religion that you have it clean
J: Oh OK, yes. Its funny though
M: I knew you think it funny, but it means it is clean you know you only use toilet paper its not hygienic
J: Yer it is hygienic, its fine
M: No but what if someone licks your ass and you are not clean?
M: Well you have to clean properly
J: Well, if I knew someone was going to lick my ass, I would wash it, but I wouldn’t wash it every time I went to the toilet just in case someone licked my ass
M: I suppose you want to lick my ass now?
J: Eh? Well, if anything you’re encouraging me, now I know your ass is nice and clean