Skip to content

Smart ways to engage

May 31, 2013

So my boys suddenly downloaded this app onto the iPad. “What’s it called?” I asked “Dumb ways to die!”
Moral panic – surely it’s not poking fun at suicide, some sick zombie-themed game?
No…it’s social marketing.
Well, at least it it’s Social Marketing Communications
Not that I’m being pedantic. But it is important to understand that communications can’t achieve everything.
The video here is a charming animation that depicts the game quite well – if you’d like download it free from the AppStore and give it a go. It’s entertainingly pointing out that doing stupid things on railway lines is…well, stupid.
As I often tell students though, just telling someone and even getting their agreement, is not enough.
Social marketing is, really, about measurable behavioural change. The game does seem to reinforce the message – from Australian train company Metro – in a few distinctive ways.
Firstly, it is engaging, so people – mostly young people – want to see it and play with it. It doesn’t do this by imitating some current ‘yoof’ craze, but by a very controlled aesthetic. The music is part of that.
I can almost guarantee that, if you have downloaded the game, within minutes you’ll be humming the tune.
If you’re like me you’ll be humming it and wondering what the tune is…until you realise where it’s come from and allow yourself a smile. The game inspires affection.
The animated figures are cute too. A complete contrast to the supposed value of ‘shock’ which, we know, can result in a kind of voyeurism but a disassociation with the risky behaviour depicted.
And it’s viral. Why? Well, as Dan Zarella points out, things get passed on if they have benefits for both parties.
If you haven’t seen ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ then I look good passing it on to you. And…if you are interested, you’ll gain some benefit (however slight) from receiving it. For young people, the intended target, passing on something of high quality, infectious humour and, yes, a slight ‘gross’ factor,has value.
The gameplay itself seems to reinforce the fact that you can avoid a lot of dumb deaths in quite obvious ways (don’t use your dangly bits for piranha bait…) but you have to move fast (no, faster, faster, faster) to get out of the way of a train.
In theory, the game frames risky behaviour around trains by placing it alongside unlikely (but very obviously dumb) behaviours and gains assent that it IS dumb. But I’d be interested to know more about the research into why people take such risks (with trains, not piranhas) in the first place.
I’ve no doubt my sons have cracked the game and moved on, but still the hummable tune and the cute, but mutilated creatures will remain in their minds I think.
Apparently McCann’s and Metro claimed a 20% reduction in risky behaviour which would be extraordinary (see Karalee Evans on Mumbrella). Metro itself claims up to 30% reduction in near misses on level crossings.
Sadly McCann’s themselves don’t share the secret of its success (not very altrusitic!) and their own analysis is sadly lacking preferring to emphasise the popularity (notably outside of Australia) leading to 40 million Youtube hits.
I’d be interested to hear how Metro and others intend to build on this campaign or if, indeed, there is any research into its effect.
It’s likely the campaign will be imitated around the world but I can only hope that it is backed up by evidence other than its virality. Social marketing IS about changing behaviour not just entertaining or engaging. Having said that, engagement is a good place to start.

Research, funding and social mobility

October 30, 2012

If you are a rich person do you have a duty to the world? That’s possibly not a question many academics need ask themselves very often. Though, in fact, they…we are very wealthy in comparison to most people in the world. We’re also wealthy in time and freedom as well as money.

The cover of Unicorn School by Linda Chapman

Please click on this image and have a look at Linda Chapman’s delightful book. It may be just what you are looking for. I’m afraid it just seems eerily apposite for this post.

Though the notion of academic freedom has been steadily eroded over the last 20 years.

Now, if we want to contribute to the sum of human happiness and knowledge we must first and foremost contribute to the institution that pays us, doing three things –

  • Teaching (of which, if you are successful, you gradually do less)
  • Earn consultancy income (which will exempt you from more teaching)

and, related to this

  • Win research funding

It is the latter that is most prized since it also elevates your status as an academic and that of your institution as well as helping to generate the second sources of income, consultancy.

But getting there is one hell of a job.

You may be fortunate in that you took a Masters and were picked up by a more experienced researcher, perhaps with a few journal publications under her belt or…well, that’s possibly the only way because you then have to get onto the PhD track and that involves finding a mythical beast with a single horn and the ability to fly, dispensing magic dust as he (or she) does so.

The unicorn metaphor may be an exaggeration.

Nevertheless, what you need to find is an academic who is

a)      Interested in your subject

b)      And knows about it

c)       And has already supervised other PhD students to completion

d)      And has the time to supervise you (either being very well rewarded or a philanthropist)

e)      And available, i.e. not already overworked with those other PhD students, consultancy and research

Unicorns might, in fact, be more available.

All of this is becoming ever more difficult because these same mythical, altruistic, great researchers who also happen to be great supervisors are fearfully facing the b*****d in the black. The REF.

The REF (as any fule no) is actually the ‘Research Excellence Framework’, the mechanism by which the Government (via a quango called HEFCE and various committees and boards) allocates funding for the research activities of universities.

And it’s not enough to produce interesting, innovative or even revolutionary new knowledge, however much you tour global capitals bringing conference audiences to their feet in rapturous applause. No. Your work has to have “impact”. And “global impact” is best of all.

You can read a much more informed discussion of this here.

So, this set me thinking about scrabbling up from a reasonably intelligent undergrad at a pretty good university, paying your way through a Masters and then facing around £3,000 p.a. for 6 or 7 years (after tax) to get a doctorate.  Always assuming you can find a unicorn to supervise you.

What are the chances that you could get into this increasingly closed shop? What are the chances that, once in, you could publish in academic journals – about the only way to demonstrate that your research is being taken seriously?

And there is another barrier. Most journals take about a year to reject a paper – if it’s good. Maybe two years to publish at best.  Furthermore most journals are 2*, 1* or even ‘no star’; what the REF process considers ‘low impact’.  That is, they are not globally important or 4* journals.  This is often because they are new or work across disciplines – these, arguably, are where the most challenging work should be appearing.

Add to that the fact that the pre-eminent journals have a queue of established academics waiting to be published.  If they get fed up waiting, they may write a version of their research paper for a lesser journal; less room for the newbie. And, on this treadmill, how much time do those established researchers have for becoming philanthropic unicorns? The new researcher is squeezed out even more.

So, in order to be successful, essentially you have to be successful. To get funding you probably have to come from an institution that already has funding. It’s almost as if the system was built to give all the research money to those that have it already.

But here’s the twist.

If the new REF, which will be implemented in 2013, is really to reward impact, how can they possibly look at publications in those well-established, high-flying journals? These journals are subscription only with circulation figures in the hundreds. About the only people who buy them are the well-endowed, research-wealthy universities – and those who’d like to be. Businesses rarely if ever refer to such journals and governments will always flatter a researcher into summarising the most important findings for them.

I wonder if those institutions at the top of the research-funding league are happy with this reinforcement of their position.  Can they argue that “Stigmatized Categories and Public Disapproval of Organizations: A Mixed-Methods Study of the Global Arms Industry, 1996–2007” (a real example) has real global impact because it appears in one of the highest ranked management journals?

Might there not be some value in them sharing the wealth a little? Might they not have a duty to bring researchers who are in other institutions into their funded projects?  To spread subject-specific knowledge of course, but also to disseminate the skills and insider understanding needed to generate such research in the first place.

To create a generation of experienced researchers spread across Britain’s universities, now that would be an impact.

(Re) Reading Marx’s ‘Capital’

September 21, 2012

Karls Marx's tombThanks to James Kennell for blogging this – a long time ago!  But I was mooching around and came across his link to these lectures.

I managed to read some Marx back at UCL and always felt guilty that I didn’t spend more time on him. I know he’s hugely influential so maybe these discussions with David Harvey will help others understand why.

I used to live quite close to Highgate and a Sunday walk up to Uncle Karl was very pleasant and, I’m sure he’d hate this, quite spiritual. He did, after all, give his life over to some pretty big ideas.

You may end up disagreeing with Marx, but there’s no doubt issues of class have come into and out of vogue recently and we probably ought to understand why.  Marx also played a big part in the development of the theory of my favourite French intellectual, Pierre Bourdieu.  The key is understanding what class is and how it comes about.

I’ll be teaching a session on Bourdieu at the University of Kent in November so I really ought to start getting my brain into gear…

So what have we been up to?

June 8, 2012

I thought it would be useful to remind people of our research so far.  Cover design for 'Even More Virtuually Free Marketing'

I’ve added in books but it doesn’t include forthcoming research such as Nick’s PhD project which will start to roll out this year.

  • Holden PR and Housden M (2012) ‘Even More Virtually Free Marketing’ A&C Black
  • Bladen C, Kennell J, Abson E and Wilde N (2012) ‘Events Management: An Introduction’ Routledge (Available here)
  • Holden PR and Wilde N (2011) Marketing and PR: Getting Customers and K eeping Them… (Business on a Shoestring) 2nd Ed A&C Black (Available here)Cover of 'Events Management'
  • Wilde N and Holden PR (2010) “The Football Replica Shirt as a Major Contributor to Brand Value in the Global Football Market.” 2nd International Conference on Brand M anagement, Ghaziabad, India
  • Holden PR (2008) ‘Virtually Free Marketing’ A&C Black (Available here)
  • Wilde N and Holden PR (2008) “Exploited or Soccer-Mad?: Fans’ Attitudes to the Marketing of Replica Shirts. Early Findings From an International Comparative Survey” Academy of Marketing Annual Conference.  Awarded Best Paper in Track in Sports Marketing
  • Aiken M and Holden PR (2008) “Bourdieu revisited: how his ideas illuminate the way political ideologies affect thinking on the third sector” The Third Sector and Political Ideologies: unpacking relations between organised civil society and the State. Symposium, University of Kent, Canterbury.
  • Holden PR and Wilde N (2007) Marketing and PR: Getting Customers and Keeping Them… (Business on a Shoestring)  A&C Black
  • Aiken M and Holden PR (2007) “Changing places or learning to tango? Values and brands in transition in the for-profit and not-for profit sectors” 6th International Colloquium on Nonprofit, Social and Arts Marketing, London, September
  • Holden PR (2005) “What would Bourdieu make of the Voluntary Sector?” VSSN seminar, London School of Economics, November
  • Wilde N (2004) “The impact of football on at risk adolescent?s health, education and social responsibilities: A study of Charlton Athletic?s involvement in the Positive Futures project”. European Football Conference, University of Central Lancs, Preston.
  • Holden PR and Wilde N (2004) “Defense or Attack? Can Soccer help tackle Social Exclusion?”  paper presented to ISTR Conference, Toronto Canada pdf of paper here
  • Wilde N (2003) “Fashion accessory, social identity or tribal uniform? Exploratory research into the reasons why consumers purchase replica football kits in England and Spain” World Sport Congress 2003 Barcelona. Published in Butenko S, Gil-Lafuente J and Pardolos PM (Eds) (2004) Economics, Management and Optimization in Sports Springer-Verlag, Berlin
  • Holden PR (2003) “Are Charities Ethical Organisations” paper presented to ISTR Fourth Workshop on the Challenges of Managing the Third Sector, Fribourg Switzerland
  • Holden PR (1999) “Charity Branding: Volunteers the missing link?” paper presented to ICFM Convention, Birmingham UK

What? Another book!

March 27, 2012

As irregular readers of Please Walk on the Grass will know the main engine for creativity here is guilt. It seems to prompt me at least to write.

Whilst I think I’ve been quite busy my colleague Nick has been going nuts recently finishing his doctorate (about which more in the future) and contributing to this rather splendid book which I can only heartily recommend to anyone of the ‘Events Management’ persuasion.

COver of Events Management bookGiven Nick’s expertise on Sports Marketing (and the other authors’ equal talent in areas such as managing events, ‘mega’ events and cultural events) this is going to be a core text for courses in this area,

It’s about to be published right about now and can be instantly downloaded for Kindle or bought specially printed onto pulped and dried wood fibre.

To have a look or buy it click here.

There now, I’ve plugged the book and can cease feeling guilty.

New updated book!

September 2, 2011
Marketing & PR on a shoestring

New edition at Amazon!

Just back from holiday?

I’m sure there are people thinking about getting to grips with their marketing, and here is just the book to help you.

The nice people at Bloomsbury have made the pages slightly bigger…and…er….well, we’ve corrected a few things and tweaked a bit so….well….oh! And it’s blue now!

[Is that the marketing pitch? Great.]

Anyway, you might want to buy it as it will still fit in your pocket, it is extraordinarily well written and contains real, practical guidance to get marketing (not just promoting).

It also contains the, now infamous, four box matrix of plenitude and refreshment* (but without drinks or snacks) from Holden and Wilde which enables you to answer almost every strategic marketing question for your business or nonprofit.

Let us know what you think.

* Plenitude: 1. An abundance. 2. The condition of being full or complete. Refreshment:  1. The giving of fresh mental or physical strength or energy. 2. A light snack or drink, esp. one provided in a public place or at a public event.

Missed opportunity

June 14, 2011

So, I’m currently reading Virtually Free Marketing (still available online) and actually it’s quite good.

The reason I’m reading it is because I’ve been commissioned to write the sequel (that’s not what the publishers call it, but it’s kind of how I sold it to them).

As you may know the book is all about getting established online – from nothing  – and costing next to nothing.  Well it’s all online and you can search around for help, but it’s good to have a guide book to hand.

Anyway, as I was hurtling up the M1 and M6 today (before hurtling back tomorrow morning) I started looking at the trucks – specifically those HGVs that are apparently nearly 14 metres long.

Eddie Stobart Truck

Eddie Stobart Truck...but what does it say on the side?

There were hundreds on the journey and I started to notice that huge bit of advertising ‘real estate’ on the side.

O f course most companies have their name and often a logo (though not all) and lots of companies have straplines.  Eddie Stobart pictured here (by far the most frequently sighted truck) has a strapline other than the one shown…and possibly the only twelve syllable one  “Delivering Sustainable Distribution” …which made me wince several times as I tried to determine what it meant and, as importantly, if it would make any difference to me if I was in a position to give them an order.

Answer: no.

There were a few other similarly tiresome straplines often about ‘delivering’ something or double glazing being ‘clearly’ superior in some way.

But the thing that struck me was that the vast majority (I estimated 80%) of the trucks had little or no branding (so they simply told you their name) and only about 1 in 10 had any really useful or informative communication on the lorry.

Quite a few just had the web address – which interestingly is almost redundant with the almost universal use of Google and more intelligent browsers – it serves only to tell you that they can be found online, if you look, because you almost certainly have no time to make a note!

Pilkington Glass TruckOnly one or two trucks had a useful or relevant message on this large area of ‘free’ advertising space. One example was a Pilkington’s Glass truck (pictured here) which had a graphic representation of its Activ branded ‘self cleaning’ glass. Important information about a product that would give you a reason to at least consider Pilkington’s.

So my question is; why doesn’t every company use the truck to really promote themselves? Not a bland corporate message but their biggest, most enticing benefit and a call to action?

I was also reminded of this photo I took a while ago which illustrates the uncanny ability some companies have to exactly demonstrate why you should never give them an order. It might take you a little while to work out.

What brands ‘mean’…and what they don’t

March 28, 2011

A quick post in response to James Harkin who has been quite active recently in support of his new book  – ‘Niche: Why the Market No Longer Favours The Mainstream’ (published by Little, Brown).

In his article in the Independent James takes a not entirely original view of the ‘cult of Apple’ asking why people are  so enamored of the brand and if HBO has taken a similar track. The article presents an interesting question about the real nature of brand marketing which, I would argue, often has very little to do with marketing as such. I don’t have time to develop the full argument here (but I hope to in a forthcoming journal paper).

Here is James’ article and here’s my response (with someApple and religion? hyperlinks).

Hi James,
There is some truth in what you say, but I think we need to be careful about perpetuating the idea that brands are simply social badges – conspicuous consumption – or in any way simply to communicate with others. There are two problems with this.
1) The personal/psychological benefits of consumption of product such as these often come about through the material performance of products (as Tim Bourne recently pointed out in his Talkonomics report [no link available]). So things that don’t work create dissatisfaction, though I accept that the definition, as it were, of a think ‘working’ is hugely influence by the attitudes the consumer brings to the product or brand. Apple acolytes are far more forgiving of such things as short battery life than the agnostic.
2) The social dimension is hugely more complex. Consumers don’t simply signal to the world their personality or taste, they construct it and it is constructed for them. People consume a brand for many reasons. One may be to do with availability which can be economic but can also be social and cultural – what brands are “good to think” (to paraphrase Mary Douglas“)? People working in creative industries find that a pretty much essential part of their positioning is to use Apple products but that’s not to say that they are in any way conscious of this nor that it is overly ‘strategic’. It’s just the obvious choice.
But the product also makes the ‘man’.
When designers use Apple products, they are adapting themselves to the technology as much as the reverse. Indeed, the whole history of human technology is the naturalisation of new ways of working for putative benefits (an effect the sociologist Peter Golding has observed).
This reflexivity – the mutually constitutive nature – of consumption practices and consumers is a realistic portrait of social action as it interacts with the material world – it’s what anthropologists from Marvin Harris and Pierre Bourdieu in the last century to Daniel Miller most recently have explored in various (and compelling) ways for decades.
Miller has written elegantly about the absolute integration of, what seems to be, material and apparently value-less in people’s lives – without the loss of humanity that consumption is often accused of precipitating.
The mystic power of brands is, perhaps, a smokescreen. If one was concerned about the effect of corporate interests on our personal lives one would have to accept that Apple is a rather minor player. Think of the hidden power of Microsoft and, more generally, the openly accessible data now on social networking sites. Perhaps the most dangerous cult is the one we lend support to without even knowing.
As Bourdieu once said “The most successful ideological effects are those which have no need for words and ask no more than complicitous silence”

I like HootSuite and I’m glad they are

March 9, 2011

I like HootSuite and I’m glad they are developing – check it out. #chartsngraphs #HootStats #HootStats

A Merry Christmas to both our readers

December 19, 2010








And have a peaceful and prosperous 2011.


<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: