17 November 2010

Flights of fancy

A cuddly video viral has been doing the social media rounds, brought to you buy those chummy Flash Mob enthusiasts T-Mobile. About 4 friends have independently posted it to Facebook as an uplifting piece of work to general applause from others, leaving me genuinely bewildered at what I am missing. You probably need speakers for the full effect:

Of course this ad was never intended for broadcast but, instead, to be shared by friends across social media such as Facebook. As such it succeeds - it makes us feel warm, we share it with people we like who also feel warm. T-Mobile then prays it makes you feel warm towards them as the original sharer of this piece of feel-goodery, because Life Is For Sharing. So why does it leave me feeling utterly cold?

On one level, it's because it is the playing out of a nightmare. I cannot imagine anything worse, having gotten off a long-haul flight, jet-lagged and disoriented, staggered through customs and have someone come up to me singing songs in my face with imaginary instruments. In that situation I want to get out of the airport as quickly as possible, talking to as few people as possible. Contrary to what T-Mobile (and BA for that matter) would have us believe, airports are not places of high drama and emotion - they are large bus stations with better shops. Even if you are met by a long-missed friend, the whole atmosphere is weird and disorienting, too full of people you don't want to hang out with.

But as a piece of marketing, for me it also fails, by trying too hard. It is part of a very complex communications strategy to position T-Mobile as a social facilitator, presenting a piece of creative that is supposed to dovetail with the spontaneity of new media channels by choreographing a not-so-new product of the new digital age: the Flash Mob. This is supposed to look like User Generated Content, unleashing the spontaneous, touchy-feely-sharey person inside us in a situation where we don't communicate, on the heels of previous executions set in railways stations and outdoor public spaces, such as Trafalgar Square. It is utterly false, utterly contrived jolliness that sits ill with the British character, like TV Evangelism, public mourning and talking to strangers in a lift.

Beyond my personal squeamishness, it falls into that other classic trap of big-budget, high-concept advertising - it is in love with its own image. Creating something special, unique, beautiful, funny, frightening or exhilarating is not enough. I want you to give me a reason to use your product. Dramatise your uniqueness, your point of difference from the competition, make me give a shit about you. Life is not for sharing, Doritos are for sharing - you run a telephone network. What's it like? Good coverage? Value-for-money? Fast data-streaming? Flexible packages? Imaginative cross-platform linking or affiliate marketing programme? Do you sing to me in an airport? One of these things is not a USP - can you tell which one?

Worse, by losing sight of its proposition, it is setting up its customers for disappointment, lured by the myth of "Content". This is basically "stuff that makes people use your service" - content can be TV programmes, websites, downloads, updates, mash-ups, forums, anything that isn't a blank screen. By trying to align itself to what its customers do with each other via T-Mobile, rather than with T-Mobile, they lose sight of the most important thing to any mobile customer: good, reliable, fast network coverage. Have you ever tried to use a mobile phone at Heathrow airport? Or on a train? Or sometimes in the middle of central London outside the wrong building, and experienced "no signal"? Maybe if my message is that important, T-Mobile can organise a singing telegram to deliver it instead.


Anonymous said...

Dreadful quality, no usp, uncool, based on thin air.

I think these ads sell the company, and the industry, perfectly.

Anonymous said...


got you talking though hasn't it....


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