Monday, 8 February 2010

How Google Helped me Get My Rental Deposit Back.

This Christmas, my wife and I decided to go to the Russian River with our family. I'd get to go fly fishing for steelhead, she'd get to drink tea and rub her giant, pregnant belly, and everybody else would get to go wine tasting. It was a genius plan.

Riverside Dacha was advertised as...

"... a tastefully decorated three-bedroom home with a large wrap-around deck nestled in a grove of majestic redwood trees. Dacha is the Russian word for a house in the countryside, a peaceful retreat where you can relax and enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds you."

What the site failed to mention was that visitors can also enjoy matted dog fur in the carpets, thin blankets, mildewed tubs, cracked mirrors, open wall sockets and a generally low standard of upkeep and cleanliness. But it was Christmas, and we were together, and the wine flowed freely. So we spent an hour cleaning up, another hour at Wal-Mart getting blankets and we just got on with things. And no, I didn't catch any steelhead.

Imagine our feelings, then, when we received the following email:

Correct. We were pissed. They wanted to keep 200 dollars of our filthy lucre for their filthy house. I turned to Tripadvisor and Yelp to vent my spleen. But no dice. The house isn't listed. Those who know me won't be surprise what happened next.

First I set up a quick and nasty website at the excellent tumblr. Then I uploaded a bunch of pictures of the house to my Picasaweb gallery.

I embedded said gallery to the tumblr page, using the not-entirely-flattering Streetview image of the house as the title image.

View Larger Map

Next I took started a Google Adwords campaign (targeted exclusively at the bay area)

Then I sent a two-word email to the management of Riverside Dacha:

"Google yourself."

When they did, they would have seen my adwords next to Google's search results and my tumblog as the third result in organic search. Very soon after they came to see how reasonable it would be to return my deposit. And offer a refund. The check arrived in the mail and the Tumblog and Adwords campaign came down. Oh, and the whole thing took 15 minutes and cost 5 bucks.

Thanks Google.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Hulu, Boxee and the Adorable Notion of Venue.

So the Wife and I have moved in to our lovely new home in Marin Country. With so much natural beauty right outside our front door, we weren't sure we'd want a TV keeping us tethered to the sofa. Then Nicole went out of town and I went to Best Buy. Enter the 32" Sony Bravia.

Towering over the room like some Kubrickian monolith, it demanded content and I complied. Only problem is, our house is down a canyon so there's no chance of Satellite TV, and I wasn't about to step into the Comcast pain-cave. So I dusted off an old PowerBook, installed Boxee and hooked that bad boy up.

Let me just say right here that Boxee rocks the house. Its interface is perfect for an across-the-room experience. It's super easy to load content. Any medium that can come down an any sort of feed -, BBC iPlayer, NPR, Picasaweb, Flickr, YouTube - will happy play through Boxee. Think of Google Reader for your living room. 'Bliss', you'd think. And you'd be right.

And yet.

The suits at Hulu had a colossal brain fart and decided that they don't want people watching their content via Boxee. Anyone who thought that NBC and Newscorp were visionary for rolling out Hulu will be re-appraising them now. It seems that some can't get past the quaint notion of venue. Once, a spot on the dial, now a URL; by any other name venue rules the school. And if viewers would rather enjoy this content elsewhere - commercials included?

Sorry kids. Hulu doesn't deliver.

Hulu is not alone. Marketers of all stripes routinely opt for venue over volume, delivering content on their own closed servers instead of injecting it into established communities. They create "Youtube Lite" or Flickr Lite" instead of just embracing the real thing. They prefer a restricted audience in a controlled environment over a larger one that operates on its own terms. Venue trumps volume.

But for how much longer? And will it be the brands or the content aggregators (we used to call them channels) that first realize that the tide has turned?

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Watching My Stolen Mobile on Google Latitude

Recently I signed up for Google's new location based mobile technology, Latitude. I figured I'd play with it a while and then uninstall.

Then last night I came home and realized that I didn't have my phone with me. For a second, I was actually kind of excited. After all, I was running Latitude. I had visions of rolling up to a nice house somewhere in the 'burbs, knocking on the door and asking the stunned homeowner for my phone back. (It had to be the suburbs. Preferably a house on a few acres of land, since Latitude isn't all that accurate.) But no joy. It was off the grid. Then this morning I checked again.


My phone is in Boston. Somewhere near Hannover Street. It should be pointed out that I live in San Francisco and have never been to Boston. My best guess is that I left it in the cab on my way home and the cabbie took someone to the airport. And that someone took my phone to Boston. Not that I blame them. What are they supposed to do, give it a fat Nokia E71 to the cabbie? Like he'd bother tracking me down.

While it's amazing that Google can reveal my phone's fate, they can't yet help to do anything about it. Or can they? And no, I'm not hoping they develop a Remote Mobile Detonator.

You see, Blogger is a Google property. Maybe this post will get picked up, go viral and find it's way to the person who has my phone. I hope so, because the auto-lock feature means that whoever found it won't be able go through the recent calls list and contact me.

And if you do read this, Mister Whoever-found-my-phone, do the right thing. At the very least it would make a good story.


Update: It seems that the fetching Jemim Kiss, every thinking geek's crumpet, has picked up this story. And kindly put it in the Guardian's PDA blog. I may see my phone yet.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Homecoming Blues

So it's official. After eight years in England Nicole and I are moving home.

We've spoken about this moment with a degree of sadness. I mean, after such a long stay we've sort of gone native. We love the English countryside and we love living in a city where everyone walks. We love taking weekend - even day - trips to europe. Geordie accents are just a good thing and I've got no idea how I'm going to live without the iPlayer or saturdays full of Premiership football. Or curry. My god, the curry rocks here.

Apart from all that, some parts of life in the USA are just irritating. Like ATM's that charge for withdrawls or 2 year mobile phone contracts. Rental car companies that won't rent stick shifts are just silly and cellphone holsters, don't even get me started on cellphone holsters.

But I'm going to an unbelieveably awesome job, (Thanks Rei) and I'll be closer to my family than I've been for 18 years. I'll probably be able to park my car most days. American diner waitresses are, hands-down, the finest souls on earth. People in America sometimes say "Good morning" to strangers and everything is so big, and cheap and clean and easy.

And yet, I can't help but feel that I'm in for a dose of culture shock in my own native land.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

The Forbidden Strategies

If you've worked in advertising for any amount of time, you will almost certainly have encountered what I've come to refer to as "the usual strategic suspects." These are the handful of propositions can be - and too ofter are - trotted out for nearly any client in any category. They're comfy and familiar sentiments, and so are probably that much easier to sell in. But to the people tasked with writing the ads they're little more than a hospital pass.

Plopped into the creative department with much enthusiasm and PowerPoint, they're met with the wry smile of a team who've heard that song before. But to be fair, these smiles are rooted more in a sense of kinship that condescension. For when the deadline looms and the traffic man takes up residence in your office, it's awfully tempting to reach for the usual creative suspects. Here are just a few:

- Person uses a poor alternative to our client, hilarity ensues. "Looking for a better way?"
- Dopey dad is saved from disaster by the clever mom (or better yet, clever kids)
- White-coated lab technicians carry out comedy experiments.
- Talking animals. Talking babies. Talking baby animals.
- A game of football spontaneously breaks out someplace surprising.

So both planners and creatives know what it's like to aim low. And whether creative or strategic, the usual suspects see the light of day for the same reasons: laziness, ineptitude or poor time management. But clich├ęd strategies aren't euthanized as quickly as their creative kennel-mates. "It's been done before" is the most common, most lethal criticism that can be leveled at an execution. But strategies seem immune to this criticism. So for the common good, here's a run-down of what I consider the most shopworn, knackered old propositions that have ever wheezed their way into my office. Feel free to add your own.

1. Reject Conformity
This is the grandaddy of all the usual suspects. I've seen it in every agency I've ever worked for. Sometimes it's written as "Break the rules!" Other times "people who buy brand x are highly individualistic" But whether you're extolling PC buyers to think different, convincing teenagers that by living unzipped they're shocking all the prudes at dad's country club, or even just crapping on about how "the rules have changed" in your ad for a mid-sized american car, you're operating in a very, very crowded space -rebellion is the new orthodoxy. As I write this an ad for the Ford Kuga is asking me "Why keep following the same design rules?" To have this strategy driven from your mind forever, read Thomas Frank's painfully astute "Why Johnny Can't Dissent."

2. The Ritual
It seems you can't be an FMCG brand these days without having a "Ritual" associated with how people buy or consume your product. Piffle. So I happen to like to twist off the top of an Oreo cookie before I eat it. And I squeeze my toothpaste from the bottom of the tube. It's not something I dwell on. But because brands tend to take themselves a bit too seriously, habits and preferences like these are puffed up into "rituals." It's an adorable conceit. But not very useful. Religions have rituals. Cults have rituals. Brands just wish they did. Get over it.

3. The World is Now... (insert your product's benefit here)
This one is probably rooted in the same impulses that allow agencies to see habits as rituals. But brands aren't so important to ordinary people that a flexible mobile tariff makes their "world more flexible."

I could go on but I'm stopping with three. Mainly because dinner is on the table. And while I'm not so naive as to think that the usual suspects are going away anytime soon, maybe they'll be easier to kill.

What strategies would you add to this list?

Monday, 6 October 2008

How long before this gets ripped off?

Gentlemen, start your photocopiers. There's a photo essay in the Guardian today featuring snaps by a photographer named Michael Hughes. I wonder which creative team will be the first to rip this one off? There hasn't been such an obvious starting gun since Stefan Sagmeister's talk at St. Luke's in 2oo1. He showed about a hundred creatives "The Way Things Go" and you could just see every team in the room furiously scribbling down their version of the film. Granted, that one took about a year to be ad-ized and played on air, but it was a huge production. And it was at least a novel spin on the idea. 

But mark my words, some team in Singapore (or Soho) will be slapping a logo in the corner of these or similar photos and adding an endline about "Tiny Prices" or some such bullshit. And no doubt the editor of Archive will love it. Well, if that's what flicks your switch, have at it. Just don't confuse that feeling you get with any sense of achievement. And please, at least have the decency to hire Mr. Hughes to shoot (or more likely, license) the photos for you.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

An Embarassment of Riches

Nicole and I went for a walk in some local woodland this morning and came across a real score. At the base of a fallen oak tree we found a MASSIVE fruiting of a species of fungus known as Grifola frondosa, (aka Maitake aka Hen-of-the-Woods.) We've only found this once before in our seven years of mushroom hunting. I can't tell you how excited we are. This fungus is rare, tasty, massively health-giving, and extremely picky about where and when it'll show itself. To top things off, this specimen was in it's peak of ripeness; a day or so later and it would have gone off or absorbed too much rain to be edible. Greedily, we took 4.5 kilos or about a fifth of the fruiting (mainly because we actually couldn't carry any more.) To make up for this shameless pillage, I passed on the location of our find to Hampstead's resident mycologist, Andy Overall.  Now for the lengthy task of breaking up, cleaning and freezing our find. Nicole's planning to make mushroom ravioli. Anyone hungry?