Tim Longhurst's Blog

Ponytail people at Naked Communications strike again

January 20th, 2009 · 20 Comments

You know, there’s a lot of mistrust out there in the world, and one Sydney based company, Naked Communications, is out there doing more than its fair share to fuel cynicism.

In fact, whenever I hear “Naked Communications”, in my mind’s eye I see a guy in a ponytail. Slick, confident, out of touch, total contempt for the audience, a liar.

While the best of the marketing world caught the Cluetrain long ago and many are scrambling to get their copy of Age of Conversation (two books that remind us to respect – and engage honestly – with our stakeholders), Naked Communications seem to come out every once in a while to show that they’re not afraid of damaging a client’s reputation – as long as there’s a few column inches in it.

I searched Flickr for pony tail man and got this guy – sensitive ponytail man, but he doesn’t quite look as out of touch as the Naked Comms guy in my head:


It all started back when Coke’s advertising agencies conspired to cynically pretend to be activists to sell chemicals, groundwater, plastic and aluminium as a social movement (see Consumers: 1, Coke, Zero). Days after I got stuck into the “Zero Movement” campaign of Coke’s, a rep from Naked Communications phoned. She was keen to discuss why I’d taken issue with advertising people pretending to be activists, and invited me to speak to Naked – and perhaps Coke – for a fee.

I do make most of my income from talks and presentations, but I couldn’t reconcile the idea of publicly campaigning against unethical communication and then somehow getting caught up advising Naked. I didn’t do the talk.

The latest Naked Comms ponytail moment

I haven’t heard about Naked in a while, but today I read in the Herald that they’re up to their old “let’s blatantly lie our target audience and hope nothing bad happens” routine.

Today’s SMH sees journo Caroline Marcus uncover Naked’s latest less than honest marketing venture: what seemed to some to be a Sydney girl using YouTube to spark a relationship with a passing stranger turns out to be a Naked-hired actress.

The actress wasn’t very convincing, and lots of comments on the video suggested it was a stunt. In a rich moment of irony, the actress assured the Herald that her plight was real: “There seems to be a lot of cynical people” she protests. Of course there are, and in a small way, we’ve got campaigns like this one to thank.

Does Naked have a Code of Ethics at their office? Are they using it as a mouse mat?

Being socially destructive – eroding people’s confidence in each other – isn’t a simple by-product of this kind of dishonest marketing, it’s the main outcome. When you’re wrapping a fresh elastic around your ponytail, “Any publicity is good publicity” probably feels like a smart thing to say. But a brand that’s known for its values and the remarkable nature of its products is always going to beat a brand that’s famous for duping potential customers to get attention.

Naked are said to be part of Photon’s “Strategic Intelligence” business. Those are big words to live up to. Being dishonest isn’t all that strategic and being tricky isn’t the same as being intelligent.

If you work at Naked, it might be a good idea to put the two books I mentioned early in this post on your reading list – or, if you get it, give them to someone senior in the business.

Naked’s website actually boasts that “many of our clients cite our honesty as a reason they like working with us.” Based on their track record, I suspect this is a lie, or perhaps it’s just “a bold marketing move” from the Ponytail Posse?

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Category: Communication and connection

The future of newspapers – the Herald hasn’t found it yet

September 8th, 2008 · 7 Comments

In January this year, 128 year old newsmagazine, The Bulletin was shut down by its publisher. Although there had been attempts to keep the mag relevent, including a move to online, it wasn’t successful enough to justify the cost of publishing.

There are a lot of news magazines / papers who must be looking at The Bulletin‘s fate, and wondering, ‘how long until that’s us?’. It’s a tough question. In a rapidly changing world, spearheaded by web technologies that have made publishing the domain of anyone with a computer and a web connection, rising above the noise and keeping people engaged is hard enough; without having to pay for a newsroom of journos and editors.

I’m currently reading “The Content Makers”, a book that examines the possible futures for media in Australia. Margaret Simons’ book, so far, paints a picture of anxious insiders feeling an awful lot like they’re riding a toy boat in a bath tub.

Well, the anxiety of those in control at the Sydney Morning Herald is starting to show… The SMH website is turning into a wilderness devoid of interaction and overgrowing with foreign content and advertisements.

A bit of background
I grew up with the Sydney Morning Herald – when I was a kid I loved Column 8, the column that was essentially thrown open to Sydney locals to send in their observations: the things they overheard on the train; the questions they had about their city. It was talk-back radio in print: engaging and short. For me, a kid, a great introduction to the paper.

Over the years, various elements of the Herald have held my interest, most recently, it’s been the smh.com.au website, which offers a taste of how things are going in Sydney – whether I’m in town or overseas.

Well, friends, I’ve had enough of the Herald and the way it’s treating me as a reader. Here’s a few points –

Where’s the conversation?
Here’s a fact: media is increasingly about conversations, but only on a tiny fraction of Herald stories do they allow their readers to discuss / object / add to content. Reading Paul Sheehan’s article praising Sarah Palin, I really would have liked to read how Sydneysiders have reacted to the recent Republican pick for VP nominee. Hell, I’d always be interested in reading how people are responding to Miranda Devine. But no, Paul and Miranda talk – we just have to shut up and read.

Where’s the local content?
The whole point of turning to a Sydney-based newspaper is for me to read news written from / for a Sydney perspective. Like many papers, the Herald subscribes to ‘wire services’ like the Associated Press. Unfortunately, instead of taking these stories and updating them or editing them for their audience, the Herald seems to have taken to ‘dumping’ wire stories on their site, regardless of the relevance or possibility of a local angle. It’s lazy and it waters-down the experience – I can read an AP story ANYWHERE on the web… I don’t come to SMH.com.au for cheap, syndicated content.

Where’s the sub-editing?
My blog’s full of typo’s and misspellings – I do my best to avoid them, but it happens. You know why? Because I don’t have a newsroom with sub-editors looking through my content before I publish it. Increasingly I’m wondering if the Herald has a newsroom, because it seems almost every story features the word, “and” twice in a row, or some other hastily-written mistake that even a second reading would have picked up.

What’s with the rotating puff?
The Herald’s website front page is dominated by a litany of photoshopped images of movie stars and Herald “relationship bloggers”, the two Sams… It makes me question my city when ‘those in the know’ seem to think we’re only interested in trying to work out ‘what makes men tick’, ‘how to please a woman’ or WTF Paris Hilton is doing today… Don’t get me wrong, I like the two Sams, it just feels that they’re promoted at the expense of all other contributors.

Why doesn’t the Herald ask me what I want, ever?
It was more than TEN YEARS ago that Excite showed that it was possible to know a little about your audience and tailor information to their interests. I’ve been a ‘member’ of SMH.com.au (I can log in to the site) for a long time – possibly ten years – and I’ve never been asked a question beyond “Which newsletter do you want us to send you?”.

Thanks, but working out how to send me “Electronic Direct Marketing” does not count as taking an interest in me. I would be prepared to answer a reasonably detailed survey of my interests if I was going to get ‘hand-picked’ news served to me daily. In a world of customized content (see Facebook), a ‘one size fits all’ home page is alienating (see ‘rotating puff’ above). And do I need to explain the value of detailed reader information to advertisers?

Flash animation hell
Most recently, the Herald has decided to pledge alleigence to advertisers at the expense of their readers. The gloves have come off and the advertisers are now allowed to fight dirty… In the past seven days I’ve started hearing humming sounds while reading articles – turns out that’s a banner ad for a car – WTF?!… Beyond that, entire videos are starting to play WITH SOUND as soon as I open an article. I click on ‘innovations’ and I’m met with a flash-based advertorial for Volkswagen, completely blurring the lines between editorial and advertising, the section descends rapidly from “brought to you by VW” to “all content is provided by volkswagen”…

If the Sydney Morning Herald were a restaurant…
If the SMH was a restaurant, their walls would feature animated advertisements, their soup would be watered down; the gruff waiters wouldn’t care what you wanted – they’d just bring you what they felt like; the ‘music’ would be advertisements turned up so you’d have to shout at your date; they’d send in photographers and women with flowers to your table (because they’d be getting a cut) and more than occasionally a customer would find that the bolognese had icy bits in it because it hadn’t been microwaved for long enough.

This blog post is being written during a turbulent industrial dispute between Fairfax, publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald, and many of its workers.

I don’t know much about Fairfax’s innovation program (does it have one?), but it seems to me that the conversation about the future of media and how Fairfax can best position itself is either happening without key stakeholders (such as its readers or journalists), or its happening behind closed doors, and only some journos and readers are being included in the conversation. But I’m pretty sure there’s no conversation, because if there was, there’s no way the Herald would look the way it does now.

A customer for life
Building a great business is about having lifelong relationships with your customers. There’s no way that the Herald advertising team are really interested in building a life-long relationship with their readers and I suspect that may be a big mistake.

I actually believe that newspapers – including The Herald, have a role to play in the future of media, but unless management open up and accept that they don’t have all the answers, the masthead is going to be dragged through the mud and the brand will be destroyed.

So what would you advise Fairfax? Which newspapers are having open conversations? What futures of media do you find appealing? I’ve got smart contributors on this blog – all opinions welcome!

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Category: Communication and connection

Transmedia storytelling – media trend / innovation

September 4th, 2008 · 8 Comments

There are lots of ways to tell a story these days: websites, comicbooks, videogames, movies are but a few… So if you’ve got a great story to tell, which should you choose? Increasingly, the answer is “as many as make sense”… Welcome to transmedia storytelling.

The Matrix is an example of Transmedia storytelling, as there is no one medium that conveys the entire world in which Neo (the central character) lives. As one professor wrote: “key bits of information are conveyed through three live action films, a series of animated shorts, two collections of comic book stories, and several video games.”.

Michael Moore is a fantastic example of someone who understands the benefits of transmedia storytelling – in the lead up to the 2004 US presidential election, Moore went to town on George W. Bush… he was attacked on Moore’s blog, in his book, Dude, Where’s My Country?, in his film, Fahrenheit 911 and during his Slacker Uprising national speaking tour. By choosing to tell his stories on multiple platforms, Moore reached diverse audiences in a manner that appealed to them, but a complete picture was only possible by experiencing each of the media in turn.

The term was introduced to me by edwardharran via twitter.

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Category: Communication and connection

Social media and ice cream – tags, ratings and comments explained…

August 13th, 2008 · No Comments

“The media don’t tell us what to think, but they tell us what to think about, which can be just as powerful.” I remember noting that learning back at university when I was studying communication. Back then, the conversation was about the ‘mass media’, and the incredible grip TV, radio and print media had on the big stories of the day.

Today, more than ever, the stories, conversations and ideas that will shape our futures can come from any one of us… Not just the media moguls… Thanks to blogging, podcasting and video sharing sites, millions of people are finding audiences for their ideas – and people to help take those ideas to even bigger audiences…

I first saw the video below over at abcdigitalfutures. Social Media – the term used to describe this new type of media, is explained using ‘ice cream’ instead of ‘media’.

It’s less than four minutes and provides a neat, simple overview of how web-enabled technologies are shifting ‘what we think about’:

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Category: Communication and connection

The Future of Media – 14th August 2007

August 1st, 2007 · No Comments

I’ll be speaking on one of my favourite topics on the 14th, so come along if you haven’t seen me give a broad overview on the Future of Media. I’ll leave time for questions so come along and stump me in front of an audience. 🙂

Here are the details…

TOPIC: The Future of Media
The ways Australians are entertained and informed are changing rapidly. In this session, Tim Longhurst will highlight emerging trends in the new media landscape and identify the consequences for business. You will see the video credited with shifting Rupert Murdoch’s attitude to the future of media and explore the websites early-adopters are already using for their information and entertainment.

Tim’s presentation will demonstrate that:
The audience has become the media
Traditional advertising is dead (or at least, it’s very, very ill)
Everything old is new again (it’s just being communicated in a different way)

Tim’s presentation will encourage his audience to:
Grow their business by better understanding the new media landscape
Benefit from new marketing opportunities by adjust their communication practices
Utilise their real-world know-how for online advantage

SPEAKER: About Tim Longhurst
Tim is a communication strategist and culture jammer. As a communication strategist he has helped global brands develop and implement online communication programs. As a culture jammer he has used new media technologies to transform the business practices of several large corporations from the outside. He blogs at timlonghurst.com


[editor’s note: unfortunately this resource is no longer available online and we have therefore removed the link]

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Category: Tim's Projects