Tag Archives: marketing mistakes

Chalkbot vs StreetWriter. A Nike Fail?

Nike in ‘cool new robot not cool or new’ shock.

The marketing and communications industry often find its inspiration through outreach to ‘edgy’, street or political artists. Think Barbara Kruger‘s work with Selfridges, or street artist Speto’s posters for Brahma beer. At the occasional cost of some credibility points, everybody wins: artists get funding and exposure, brands get cooler creative executions than agency ‘creative’ teams could dream up unaided.

But sometimes, ideas are appropriated for campaigns without the consent of their creators. Consent can, at first glance, seem a particularly grey area for street art, say, or activist content. After all, if you’ve gifted an idea to the commons without a clearly-stated and enforceable license in place, what right have you to complain if that idea gets spotted by an agency and used to sell, say, soft drinks. Or indeed, sports shoes?

Consider, for example, Chalkbot — a robot which writes messages in chalk on the road as it bumps along behind another vehicle. You can send Chalkbot tweets, you can text it, you can probably email it. And whatever you send, ends up on the road, writ large in chalk. Chalkbot is cool. Geek cool. As we understand it, Chalkbot was developed by DeepLocal, and, via ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, is being used by Nike as part of its brand tie-up with the LIVESTRONG campaign of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, at the Tour de France (yes this can get confusing).

We first heard about Chalkbot on Twitter today. But actually, no — we didn’t first hear of it today. We first saw the technology demonstrated a few years back, at a Dorkbot event in London. The project was called StreetWriter, and its creators were a group of highly technical activists called the Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA). Not just cool, StreetWriter was also political. Watch the video.

Chalkbot isn’t StreetWriter. Although based on IAA’s work, Chalkbot is far from political. It’s commercial. It’s also built, in part, by former IAA members. Nothing wrong with that in itself. DeepLocal present their version of its history on their website [thanks to Nathan at DeepLocal for providing us with that link in response to my earlier shoutout on Twitter].

Crucially, however, Nike and W+K’s press releases apparently make no mention of their robot’s activist ancestry.

Our problem with that? One word: Attribution — a key concern of us commons-loving content-creators. Play, mix, mash-up, create using what we’ve made, but give credit where credit’s due: show respect to those who came before, on whose ideas you build. This is simple: even leaving aside the politics, Nike should be putting some more love out. It seems the IAA shares our views on this. In the past hour or so, they’ve issued a press release which details their dissatisfaction with Nike’s appropriation of their work. Read it. Respond as you see fit.

This story is developing. We’ll keep you posted as and when Nike or its agencies make any public response.

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Amazon’s ‘vanishment’ of LGBT literature from sales ranks spurs a realtime revolt via social media.

Amazon is in deep trouble with the online LGBT commmunity this Easter. The retailer has re-classified as ‘adult’, and removed sales rankings from, a range of books which includes Henry Miller, Anais Nïn, contemporary same-sex romances and young readers’ books which feature same-sex parenting. Cue uproar on social media, with hashtag #amazonfail top trending last night across the whole of Twitter.

Google ‘amazonfail’ for the developing story, or check this nice summary post from the National Post for background. Fittingly, we first heard of Amazon’s actions via author Hari Kunzru, on FaceBook (thanks for the tip!)

Amazon’s first statement claimed that the de-ranking was the result of a ‘policy decision’. However, as we go ‘to press’ (as making a fresh pot of coffee and curling back up in bed with the laptop is referred to, in blogging circles), the bookseller appears to have changed that position. Its updated statement is so tepid and vague (“There was a glitch with our sales rank feature that is in the process of being fixed…”), that we’re guessing the PR agency has taken Easter off, leaving Amazon to crisis-manage for itself. Ouch. Would love to eavesdrop on that conference call tomorrow morning….

Although this story has been picked up by the US-based culture blogs and mainstream press, we’ve seen no mention of it ‘above ground’ in the UK. Maybe UK media journalists are also having a long lie in today, rather than doing their jobs?

Regardless of Amazon’s final response (which needs to be significantly more credible than its efforts so far), plenty damage has been done to the brand, amongst communities which know how to organise, and that understand the strength of collective action. A glimpse of that strength came last night, when, within a few short hours, a word-of-mouth googlebombing campaign successfully dislodged Amazon’s own definition of its precious sales ranking system on Google. An Amazon-critical alternative definition of Amazon Rank now tops search rankings in the US and UK.

Online, the ‘hacklash’ continues: there’s an open call out for an amazonfail logo, to replace Amazon widgets and links removed by site-owners in solidarity with the ongoing protests. Expect more creative activism in the same vein, over the coming hours and weeks. Until, in fact, Amazon actually comes clean, credibly and openly, about what, exactly, just happened. The longer that communication is delayed, the more damage will be done to the brand. Through social media, communities organise and engage in real-time. Brand-owners must respond likewise.

Whoever it was, a few years back, who said we should stop belittling people’s power by calling them ‘consumers’ and start respecting them as ‘amplifiers’, got it so right. We’re going to hunt his book down. But not on Amazon.

[UPDATE 13 April, 15:15. As of this writing, this post is top-ranked on Google UK search for 'amazonfail'. If Amazon and its PR agency do care about social media engagement, we're easy for them to find, and would love to hear from them.]

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Brand Tags

Free association brand perception

brand tagsEasy peezy. Visit the Brand Tags site, and be shown a logo. Type in a single word that sums up your instant reaction. Rinse and repeat. The resulting tag clouds offer a nice reality check on spontaneous brand associations aggregated from the (entertainingly skewed) mob of rag-tag respondents: popular tags include ‘useless’ (for Twitter) and ‘bullshit’ (Evian). Draw your own conclusions.

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Hackney Council v Yellow Pages

What do people actually do with Yellow Pages directories these days?

This door-dropped card from Hackney Council offers their considered opinion on the subject — Yellow Pages is the only branded item on their list of useless waste (think engine oil and foil) to be put in their green recycling bins. We think they’ve got it about right.

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Way to Go, Hasbro

Toy giants crack down on Scrabulous, one of Facebook’s most popular applications

Lawyers for Hasbro and Mattel have asked Facebook to pull the game, saying that Scrabulous infringes their copyright on the board-based word game. The game was built for the site by Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, two software developers based in Kolkata, and has 594,924 daily active users – about a quarter of the total that have so far signed up to play it. Interestingly, the brothers say they hit upon the idea of launching a free online Scrabble game when a site where they used to play decided to charge its users in 2004 (how very Web 1.0).

“Next year, we decided to launch our own free scrabble site. It was to help the gaming community,” says Jayant. Rajat and Jayant claim that they contacted Hasbro about collaborating on the game but received no response. It it worth noting that it has taken the toy giants rather a long time to react to the game, despite its high profile and obvious similarity (it’s exactly the same) to Scrabble.

Brands dream of getting this kind of traction online — and Scrabulous has arguably caused a generation to fall in love with Scrabble all over again. If Hasbro and Mattel succeed in having the game removed — rather than entering into talks with the developers — they will have scored a spectacular own goal. A Save Scrabulous group is already ablaze with Facebookers commenting on their shortsightedness – it currently has 6,000 members and counting. Of course Mattel and Hasbro are going to create their own version. But why not just piggy-back on what’s already there, and reap the benefits? Hasbro and Mattel have an opportunity here to engage properly with social media and look like good guys. Let’s hope they don’t blow it.

Source: BBC.

UPDATE: following widespread reporting in the press, the Save Scrabulous group had ballooned overnight to 28,000+ ….

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Apple Bitter, or Just Sour Grapes over iPhone?

Latest Apple software breaks hacked iPhones — deliberately?

The BBC (along with everyone else) reports that Apple’s latest iPhone software update cripples not just phones hacked to work on ‘unapproved’ mobile networks, but ‘legit’ phones as well. Given Apple’s warning earlier in the week that hacked iPhones might at some point suffer permanent failure as a result of future updates, it’s unclear if (a) the update is designed to break hacked phones, or merely that (b) Apple was aware that it probably would, but went ahead and released it anyway. In either case, it looks from here that the new, consumer-product-focussed (we’re not a computer company anymore, no no) Apple — the one that has delayed the new release of its core Mac software for months to focus development resources on its phone — is in danger of losing some of the ‘ole magic loyalty. Which is surely only be a good thing for consumers: haven’t we really had enough of brand arrogance?

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No Nirvana

Dr Martens seem to think that featuring an angelic Kurt Cobain in heaven in their ads is a Good Thing.

kurt-cobain-for-dr-martens.jpgSo we suppose the ad agency thought: grunge icon + iconic shoe brand – both a bit irrelevant nowadays = exciting brand-generated controversy and lots of sales.

Guess again.


“The head of Dr. Martens shoes apologized yesterday for an ad featuring Courtney Love’s late husband, Kurt Cobain, and other dead rock stars.

“We are really, really, really sorry,” Dr. Martens chief executive David Suddens tells People magazine. “We do think that it is offensive. We made a mistake. My message to Courtney Love is: This is something we shouldn’t have been doing.”

On Wednesday, Love lashed out at the company via her publicist. “Courtney had no idea this was taking place and would never have approved such a use,” her rep told People. “She thinks it’s outrageous that a company is allowed to commercially gain from such a despicable use of her husband’s picture.”

Suddens says the ad appeared in a British publication and was intended for a one-time use, though it got attention when it showed up on Web sites this week. Suddens says it was a mistake to have allowed even limited use of the ad.

“I wasn’t even aware of it,” Suddens says. “I was still unaware until [Wednesday]. When I found out what happened, I fired [the agency].”

The ad agency that created the effort, Saatchi & Saatchi London, released a statement yesterday posted on the Web site The Daily Swarm. “We believe the ads are edgy but not offensive,” executive creative director Kate Stanners says in the statement. “We regret that the controversy has led Dr. Martens to terminate the contract with Saatchi & Saatchi.”

Stanners goes on to claim that the image was released on a US site without authorisation from the agency. However, an official-looking interview that the writer Andrew Petch gave to the Daily Swarm over a week ago would apparently demonstrate that they were keen to get the word out about the campaign. The article was accompanied by all the executions including ones featuring the recently deceased Joe Strummer as well as Joey Ramone and Sid Vicious.

Erm, do they not understand that the Internet is global?

Source: Newsday via PerezHilton.

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Crying Kids Update

Ad agency rips off photographer. Gets caught.

Late last year we noted how similar some ads for a Chinese Italian restaurant chain were to the photography of Jill Greenbergh. At the time we noted that while Greenbergh’s work had caused controversy in the UK, similar images were being used to sell pasta in China. We never thought that the agency would be foolish enough to have not actually asked permission, or — if they hadn’t — that they thought that they could get away with such blatantly copycat work. Shanghaist now kindly alerts us to the fact Greenberg was neither involved nor was she asked permission.

According to Photo District News — which has reported on the story independently from us:

The O&M ad, credited to art director Ng Fan and photographer Connie Hong, according to the site AdsoftheWorld.com, shows a 2- or 3-year-old girl with angel wings, apparently distraught because a strip of hair has been shaved off her head. The ad’s tagline says, “Freshly made angel hair” (a reference to the pasta served by the restaurant). The photograph strongly resembles not only Greenberg’s “End Times” concept, but her shooting style. The images from Greenberg’s exhibit were widely published and reprinted both online and in print, and can be found on her web site.

Pursuing a copyright infringement claim in China can be expensive and difficult. Even if Greenberg pursued legal action, “she would probably have a difficult time making a case,” opines intellectual property attorney Nancy Wolff. Wolff explains that subject matter—in this case, crying children—is not protected by US copyright law, at least. And the ad may not be similar enough to any particular image by Greenberg to meet the threshold for infringement, even though it evokes Greenberg’s style. “Style is not something you can easily protect in terms of copyright,” Wolff says.

Greenberg declined to comment on this story.
Responding to an e-mail request for an interview, Michael Lee, managing director of O&M Advertising in Shanghai, said that the agency is “working with Jill for a solution.”

In our hyper-networked times, why do ad agencies think they can get away with this? There are even websites entirely dedicated to spotting when commercial interests rip off independent artists: check out You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice. Note to agencies: you will get found out.

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Flickr Riot

Yahoo! takes its corporate clod-hoppers to the photosharing site… and messes up bigtime.

Why do big companies like to stifle little ones? You’d have thought that in the brave new Web 2.0 world, big brands would have a better way to deal with mergers and acquisitions but apparently not. Example: we are currently witnessing a major user-generated riot as long-term Flickr users are informed by Yahoo! that they will soon have to use a Yahoo! id to access and use the photo-sharing site.

We’re with the rioters.

Yahoo! bought Flickr a while back. Since then it’s grown hugely and doubtless benefited from Yahoo!’s grown-upness and corporate clout. As for us users, the folk who actually populate Flickr with our stuff, Yahoo!’s presence has until now been pretty benign. We’ve also been patted on the back for being ‘old skool’ by Flickr when we sign in — i.e. a user from before the buyout. This makes us feel kind of with it and proud in a very ‘get me i’m an early adopter’ type way. We’re also the biggest marketing tool Flickr has. Only yesterday we were earnestly telling colleages that ‘Flickr changed my life’. And it has.

Here’s an email that one of us sent on receiving the mail saying that I would soon need a Yahoo! id to sign in — the petulant tone is particularly important:

I don’t want a sucky Yahoo! account.

I hate Yahoo!

I like being an old skool user.


I guess that Flickr/Yahoo! are betting they can afford to lose the old-timers for the sake of more joined-upness and the ability to flog Yahoo! products to the Flickr users who are left. We’re just left feeling that something brilliant has now been tainted and that — much like when Google took over YouTube — the party is somewhat over. And — more worrying for Flickr — I don’t know if I’m going to be envangelising about Flickr for much longer — not if it involves becoming a Yahoo! user. Urgh.

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More Phony Sony

Sony caught out. Again.

psp fuck up.jpgHow many times do we have to say it: there is nowhere to hide on the Internet. This time last year we were talking about how Sony had attempted to exploit street art to market the PSP and now the company has been caught astro-turfing on behalf of the brand. According to Brandrepublic:

Sony Computer Entertainment has been exposed as being behind an embarrassing online viral campaign intended to boost sales of its PlayStation Portable handheld console at Christmas.

A website appeared last month, at alliwantforxmasisapsp.com, intended to look like a genuine fan site unaffiliated to the brand. The site, which included a video clip of a “Cousin Pete” performing a rap asking for a PSP for Christmas, triggered suspicion among the gaming community about its creators’ impartiality.

Speculation that the website was a Sony creation was initially dismissed by the site administrators, who wrote: “We don’t work for Sony. And for all you dissin’ my skillz I’m down for a one on one rap off or settling it street stylez if you feel me playa.” [Quite].

It has since emerged that the site was created by Sony Computer Entertainment US.

Contrast this with the launch of the Wii. Now we don’t think that all of those pictures of Wii-related black-eyes and customised wrist straps are necessarily a Bad Thing. And recalls also have a tendency to make the heart grow fonder. At least it demonstrates that people are actually playing with the damn things… as The Mirror headline notes:

Wii-OWW! THE new Nintendo Wii games console is causing mayhem — as over-excited players hurl themselves around.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen a grand total of three PSPs this year. Another gauge? Flickr is already hosting nearly 21,000 photos relating to Wii to PSP’s 23,000.

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