Episode One Hundred and Eighty One: It’s Too Hot; Monitor This

by danhon

0.0 Sitrep

10:19pm in Sydney, Australia on the hottest day of the year so far, a sort of 93 degrees fahrenheit hot. And then a surprise (pop-up? flash mob?) thunderstorm in the afternoon after I’d popped down to Circular Quay to do some Guilty Dad Shopping and the requisite photo of Sydney Opera House (it looks quite nice).

1.0 It’s Too Hot

On the it’s-too-hot-ness, learning from Mark Pesce at the closing party for Web Directions that when it hit above 43 degrees celsius in Sydney, weird things started happening. And by weird, I mean that bats. Just. Die. They can’t regulate their heat anymore. They just fall down and die. Loads of them. Birds stop singing, because it’s too hot to sing.

The world just goes quiet.

And there’s me, standing there, thinking: well, more people need to know about this. There’s the abstract effect of climate change, but there’s that back of the neck chill, that absolute atavistic *fear* that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong when *the birds don’t sing anymore*.

That’s what climate change is. Yes, yes, sea levels rising, increased instability due to food security and everything else.

But it’s going to get too hot for the birds to sing.

That should scare the fuck out of you.

2.0 Monitor This

OK, so read this first: Adrian Short’s blog posts about Samaritans Radar, a “Twitter App” that does potentially naive keyword monitoring to alert you to potentially at-risk Twitter accounts you follow in your stream so you can help them. Read:

– Samaritans Radar: Paved With Good Intentions
– Unethical Twitter
– Samaritans Radar Must Close

And it’s good to hear what Samaritans have to say for themselves, too:

– Samaritans Radar Press
– Samaritans Radar Update

Okay, so. There are a number of trigger phrases in what I’ve read about Radar, least of which is something like “created by digital agency x” and then I’m all, *oh really*, created by a digital agency, let’s see about that, then.

Let’s be clear. Samaritans Radar is a campaign. Here’s the writeup in Campaign Live[1]:

Samaritans, the charity that supports anyone in distress, is launching a Twitter app to help people spot the signs that a friend is struggling to cope. Jam created the app, which uses Twitter’s application programme interface to pick out key words and phrases from Tweets that indicate a person is contemplating suicide. Samaritans then offers the user advice on how to help. Twitter is supporting the Radar app as part of its Twitter Ads For Good, which offers charities free Promoted Tweets. The campaign was created by James Greening, Joel Lim and Liam Chapman.

I know a thing or two about campaigns. I’ve been briefed on them and I’ve CD’d them. And they are not, absolutely not, products or services. But the briefs that come in for them, well. We know about the pressure for advertising creatives to come up with something new. About how sexy it is to “make something”. About how advertising is actually about solving problems, not just communications.

But then Jam is described on Google as “a social media marketing agency, and part of Engine. We create award-winning social media communication strategies for brands.”

I’ve been in meetings like this.

I don’t know what the brief would’ve been. But given that it went to Jam in the first place, I’m sure it was something to do with “let’s do something on social or mobile”. And it’s exciting to think, as a creative team, that you’ve come up with an “app” that can “solve a problem”.

Well, part of the fucking problem is this: those creative teams have most commonly *never shipped* an “app” or a “service” before. And the skills required in actually making a good application or service are vastly different from those involved in creating compelling creative communications. Because, you know, one of these things is used and the other one isn’t. That’s not to say that good apps and services *can’t* be informed by the kind of taste and direction that informs well-performing advertising creative communications work. But the two things are different!

This is why, for example, good producers try to find people who’ve actually done something in the relevant area before, so you’re not playing a fucking crap shoot.

There is a *world of difference* between coming up with the idea for an app – “hey, let’s use Twitter to see if we can help find people who might be at risk so their friends can help!” and actually making it and figuring out if that’s a good idea or not.

Being a good copywriter or art director or knowing how to ship a microsite that has pretty good parallax scrolling is incidental to doing a good job.

And the blame here doesn’t just lie on the agency – who, I have to admit, I think are pretty reprehensible here for on the surface displaying hardly any competency to do the thing that they did properly for a fucking social charity involved in *mental health* – but also on the part of the client, who at this point look like they have *no idea what they’re doing* and is just another example of the whole trainwreck of leadership and management *not getting it either* and someone either being asleep at the wheel or looking at the thing in front of them and *not even knowing it was a wheel in the first place*.

There are *tonnes* of better agencies in London that could’ve and would’ve done even a marginally better job at this. There are tonnes of ways that this “campaign” could’ve been better communicated.

If it’s not clear, this is one of the reasons why I’m disgusted with the advertising industry.

This stupendous pressure to be “good at digital” at an agency is being foisted upon people who range from having no idea of what they’re doing to being genuinely terrible at what they’re doing to trying to do the best in a pretty hostile environment, where most other people have no idea what they’re doing. Oh, and try and make money and sell the fucking work, please. And where the leadership as well have no idea what they’re doing, and can just hear “Well, that sounds like a good idea! Go and make that!”

I mean, woo hoo. You’ve made some microsites and some viral campaigns and maybe even shot some ads and hey, on a good day you get to do some compelling banners. This is *different stuff*. Where’s the fucking service manager? Where’s the research? Oh, you don’t need that, you just need a planner, a creative technologist, *FOUR CREATIVES* and a project manager. Fuck that shit. There’s a reason when I was at Wieden that when I wanted to do stuff like this the first thing I did was pick up the phone and call an agency or production company that had actually done it before. And, in fairness, why Wieden itself would never have gotten to do that work in the first place.

This is what you get when “digital” is just a black box that doesn’t need to be understood, that can be foisted off on someone else. I’m angry at Jam for pretending they could execute and puffing themselves up, and I’m angry at Samaritans for not having their shit together.

This is what happens when we don’t have digital transformation. We get crap like this all over the place.

But hey! Digital Campaign of the Week in the Third Sector![2] Great job everyone! Pat yourselves on the back, stick that on your LinkedIn and go home with the knowledge that you killed it and made a Great Campaign!

[1] http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/thework/1319601/
[2] http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/samaritans/communications/article/1319884

10:45pm and I’m angry. I’m going to bed.