Four Social Media Conversations

This is a very pretty bit of diagramming: The conversation prism, by Brian Solis and JESS3.

The converstation prism

What is shown here is simply different verticals and environments in which social media conversation takes place: its pretty small, so you cant really see, but you can download the image bigger on their homepage – or buy a poster of it for $20 if you have really poor eyesight. Point is, I’m doing some consultancy work around adapting digital strategy within these verticals at the moment, and have a couple of rising areas of interest. Its not one of those gay lists of ‘7 KEY FACTORS FOR SOCIAL MEDIA SUCCESS” – its just quite interesting.

1. Meta Conversations
Aggregation of audience is not necessarily about demographics but users within a vertical. So, if twitter communications link to twitter related content, they are more likely to be engaged with. Twitter is about linking cool stuff on the web. The closer you remain to these meta-conversations the more likely your stuff will spread (eg the more likely people are to retweet: engagement is another measure, not just clickthrough).

Picture 14

A good example is this case study of VW…they use twitter API based around your recent tweets to determine which VW is best for you. Whilst this might not actually be the case, it is certainly interesting and relevant to the the activities you are already involved in (eg twitter, profiling, ‘cool web stuff’). So, maybe ‘remarkable’ content sits between following the link and having to visit a more corporate homepage. Thus whilst clickthrough is desirable it is not the only measure: content drives engagement as a result of its proximity to vertical meta-conversations/norms/interests (eg innovative use of API).

2.Content in Context

My formula is Content in Context + Integration and Connection Reciprocality. The challenge may be to create content, pushed into contexts where it makes sense, that integrates with the same content in other verticals AND different content within that vertical. It is vital to achieve an optimum degree of permeability within the social media experience. Trade off between a brand homepage ‘hub’, the controlled, branded content within verticals (with gentle pointers to desired actions), and the uncontrolled, UGC social world. “What connects people to people to your brand is the creation and development of a collective purpose and meaning through the mutual exchange of ideas. Let us not limit our creativity by limiting our perspective on language or expression in the context of the brand” – @razorfish.

3. Making a Cup of Tea
People always forget individual difference. this is what Chris Hackley is often talking about. People’s context is influenced by multiple variables – what they’re doing at the time, where they are, who they are…whether upon linking through to some content they nip off to make a cup of tea; whether they have 20 minutes and are bored and resultantly play your online game for 30 minutes without really paying any attention. The only means of combating this would be to ensure you engage at a number of different points, to increase your chances of developing an interaction.

Don't be a Brand Slag

Don't be a Brand Slag

The guy I’m working with at the moment says ‘people might be ready to kiss the brand, but not ready to fuck just yet’. I think this is a bit crude, but it makes sense; the courting analogy, and always has done. Tom Himpe says ‘Brands tend to lack the necessary skills for this seduction ritual. They are used to revealing everything about themselves at the very first encounter, eager to get customers into the sack as soon as possible. But today’s savvy audience is reluctant to allow themselves to be seduced so quickly and openly. They prefer brands to seduce them little by little, revealing their messages slowly, intelligently and flirtatiously’.

Picture 15

4. Remark Upon Me!
At the end of the day, you talk about stuff that’s remarkable: that makes you remark upon it. Social media is no different – people converse around stuff that is remarkable, and it is this stuff that gets shared and discussed and engaged with. So there you go, planners and brand strategists of the world, there’s your creative brief written: Create something remarkable that people will share and remark upon. Job done.


Long Time No Blog

May and June have been pretty busy. Here’s some of the stuff I’ve been up to:

Series of Papers on Delivering Creativity: Coming Soon


I’ve written a series of four papers around the topic of Delivering Creativity in an Advertising Creativity context, as a combined piece of PhD/Organisational Ethnography/Consultancy work. This has taken up the largest chunk of my time – and I’ve not really been able to blog anything on it as I’m tied up with a NDA and the work is being developed iteratively amongst myself, the agency and my professors. The papers cover topics including:

The Digital Advertising Industry Macro-Environment: Challenges, Boundaries and Systems
Digital and the Economic Climate
The Role of Organisational Culture in Delivering Creative Services: Tacit/Silent Running, Interpretive Repertoires and Communicating Creativity through Culture
A Systems View of Creativity
Bounded Creativity
Processes, Boundaries and Ownership in Delivering Creativity
Managing Relationships: Delivering Creativity through the Agency-Client Relationship; Managing Partners/Suppliers/Individuals

They are currently under review but will hopefully be rolled out over the next month or so. So, watch this space – I think they should be a good read.

Design, Production, Music

DOS Screenshot

Wagtale completed their final Lancaster gigs in June alongside the timely release of their demo EP ‘Dreams of Spacestations’. We recorded and produced the six track album ourselves at the Jack Hylton studios in Lancaster. The tracks will be available online at for a short while and you can order the EP by emailing me or twittering @joeadamfry, priced at £5, postage contingent.

Singing on Stage at the Royal Festival Hall

Mention in Saturday 20 July’s Guardian as ‘a guy who wanted to sing a Britney Spears song’ in John Walter’s world music review. The gig was awesome, Ornette Coleman played – and singing with Bobby was one of the best things I’ve ever done I think.

“McFerrin never played it safe: he asked audience members on stage to dance while he devised a score. Another 10 volunteers went up to duet with him, including someone who knew the tune but not all the words to Over the Rainbow (McFerrin never worries about singing all the words); a guy who wanted to sing a Britney Spears song; and a girl whose indie wail worked beautifully with McFerrin’s chameleon-like bass riff”

If you’ve never heard of him – he’s the guy who released Don’t Worry Be Happy – this is the sort of thing he does live though. Watch it in HQ, it’s quite something.

Hyde Park/Southbank Centre/Rock Werchter

In the past three weeks I have seen some of my favourite bands, and some classics as well. Rodriguez y Gabriella, Mogwai, Dave Matthews Band (twice), Oasis, Coldplay, The Killers, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Bloc Party, Bobby McFerrin, Jason Mraz, The Prodigy.

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.

New Microsoft Bob McKnight Ads: Good? Not as good as Meeting a Walrus.

Now I’m far from a fan of Microsoft, but their new ad featuring Quiksilver CEO Bob McKnight is actually really good. It deals with the issues surrounding the recession in an innovative way, and the tsunami metaphor works nicely.

I like the resolve too, with the emphasis being on a ‘co-opetitive’ future of collaboration, communication, transparency and mutual production between markets, organisations and consumers. This makes a lot of sense and is something I have commented on previously – the problem is, I’m not sure if either a) Microsoft are the company to argue this point, or b) whether Quiksilver serve as a good example presently of a company ‘surfing through’ the downturn.

However, upon finding the second ad in the series (above) featuring Coca Cola CMO Katie Bayne, it dawned on me that I had seen the style of the ads somewhere before: realising through youtube comments, that it was indeed, extremely similar to the work of Jerry Levitan’s film ‘I Met the Walrus’, a short with the blurb: ‘In 1969, a 14-year-old Beatle fanatic named Jerry Levitan, armed with a reel-to-reel tape deck, snuck into John Lennon’s hotel room in Toronto and convinced John to do an interview about peace’ shown below:

Now, I’m not 100% certain, but it would seem that Jerry Levitan did not have anything to do with the Microsoft ads – although many others are saying that he did. Surely, if it is not, this is another criminal example of companies ripping off ‘youtube ideas’ from the amateur professionals on the edge of our creative sphere (not that they are amateur professionals in the sense that they are not good enough to be professionals, but in the sense that they are of professional capability, but simply work outside a directly commercial context). Moreover, if it is Jerry Levitan’s work, it is a far cry from the Academy Award nominated short shown above, and in my mind, still serves as an example of this ‘creativity by peripheral proxy’: an organization struggling to find a propositional or communicative foothold, stumbling through campaigns (Seinfeld? “I’m a PC”? Such horse shit) and trying to latch on to the latest buzz. ‘Just copying something else and slapping your brand all over it’ isn’t creativity, another perfect example of this frustrating but increasingly prevalent device is T-Mobile’s flash mob rip off thing.

The thing is, in saying that they’re ‘ripping off other people’s ideas’ and so on, is in some ways true: but thinking about it critically, they are in some ways being creative, these devices hadn’t been used as ‘ads’ before, and in that sense they are original and innovative. In a lot of ways, they are only able to ‘create’ in this way because of the internet and the ability of all those with access and ideas to become content producers; simultaneously we are only able to know where their ideas have come from because we all have access to the same resource, and would likely not have been able to research or understand where the ideas have come from otherwise.

A rant might normally ensue then, that these true innovators like Jerry Levitan should be the ones who get their work shown all over the world, or that this is the level of quality and innovation we should be expecting from within advertising agencies. But a hub-spoke system of creativity will rarely work like that. Creativity comes from the fringes, from creative people rubbing up against the forefront edges of many other cultural borders and expanding the pile as a whole: reinforced, as ever, by digital. To pull these people and these ideas into the hub or centre or mainstream or whatever, is to dissolve and dilute what they are: the anithesis of big companies and big bucks and so on, and the driving force of creativity and innovation from the outside in. It is rarely possible the other way round, but a greater flow of information and collaboration is coming: as more of us become producers, the more advertisers will have to let us produce. It is the job of the agecny therefore, to ensure this conversation and collaboration is handled and managed effectively using the right mix of digital, social, and ‘real-life’ tools.

Looking Cool…

I was told this morning by one of the professors at my University that she’d used me as an example in a seminar…as ‘an organisational ethnographer who dressed appropriately to study advertising agencies and creative businesses’…and told me ‘not to be offended’. I don’t think I was; it’s a compliment in a way I suppose (although I was ripped by @pace and @HayleyS simultaneously upon notifying them of this fact: (HayleyS @joeadamfry you and your ‘media glasses’); (pace @joeadamfry I always thought your dress sense was painfully, painfully cool. You weren’t even out of place sitting next to me!)).

Moreover, it illustrates an important point about impression management in the creative industries. I didn’t have to worry too much about adapting what I wore or how I spoke etc as it pretty much corresponds to the industry I research. But the point goes beyond the perspective of the organizational ethnographer. Remember those videos you watched in PSE or whatever at school telling you ‘how to dress for an interview’, ‘what to say and what not to say’, how to conduct yourself and so on…these are in many ways obsolete in the media/advertising industry – and in a wider post-modern, post-industrial context, for several reasons.

Firstly, I am not advocating the extremely self-conscious and almost pretentiously ‘creative’/’laissez-faire’ ‘dress-down’ places that seem to proliferate (where essentially, the uniform just moves from shirt and tie to designer brand polo-shirt, jeans and loafers, and management styles barely change at all: only in how they represent themselves), but am rather making the point that in my experience, creative people, or people who perceive themselves to be creative, in an organisational setting, tend to dress in a way that expresses this: that tangibilizes it and externalizes it.

Mothers offices

Mother's offices

Above: The offices at Mother

What is interesting for me is how creative agencies use this device. It is necessary in a lot of ways: creativity is a relatively slippy, abstract and intangible concept, and is essentially the core offering of many of the creative, digital and advertising shops around – particularly the majority of smaller agencies that have been springing up. They are on the periphery of the ‘core-peripheral’ networked industry (imagine this as a diagram if you can) and hence position themselves as flexible, innovative and creative etc….but how can they communicate this. Obviously in their work, in their tone of voice and so on – but mostly through their most valuable asset: their people. Their culture. Their location; their premises. How their employees and subsequently the organisation looks, acts and talks, all aid the communication of what the agency ‘is’ and ‘does’.

Secondly, when the agency goes to the client, they have a responsibility to their perceived cultural capital, and are seen to present themselves, act and talk as such. This in turn allows them to talk and act in certain ways (a ‘facilitative’ boundary between the local worlds of ‘the client’ and ‘the creative agency’) but simultaneously restricts them from behaving in others. It preserves the mystique of the creative genius (eg the black-boxing of processes – which if you remember we are trying to avoid) but more importantly facilitates a mutual understanding of what each organisation ‘is’.

Thirdly, when the client comes to the agency, they see a ‘funky, creative’ etc environment, more relaxed than the culture at their place of work perhaps, maybe with beanbags or whatever and music playing, people with their shoes off – and this serves to reinforce and confirm their choice of ‘creative’ people – or should do at least. They have an opportunity to relax and dress down themselves, and potentially become immersed in and part of this part of the creative process.

This is perhaps the most important point, as paradoxically whilst ‘creative people’ may express themselves in certain ways in an attempt to tangibilze their cultural capital in the form of creativity, they simultaneously must represent themselves as both credible and also manageable, in an organisational sense; again my argument reverts to the integration of management AND creativity – a combination of divergent AND convergent thinking, and the representation of such an integration through appearance, manner and discourse.

New URL and Design Section


It seems maybe pointless to say this on the blog itself, but it is nice to mention. I bought today for £10.40 for the year, which seemed reasonable and stops anyone else from buying it. Coincidentally, my previous design portfolio site ( is presently parked, and so I thought I could easily open up a design section through this blog, and that is what I have done: at, (Or click on the design tab at the top of the page) which I quite like really. It suggests there is more to me than just design, an allusion not made with the previous domain. Ah what a great weekend this truly is. Check it out anyway guys, and I will be updating the design section regularly with my portfolio of work.