Top Gear. A programme in search of a reason for change

For months (years?) I’ve been trying to think of an excuse to renew my blog. The longer I left it the harder a reason to restart and the weaker an excuse for stopping became.

(say this in a Jeremy Clarkson voice) Until now.

I’ve just watched Top Gear and suddenly it all makes sense. The analogy is all too clear. Months off, a change of direction, new content – my blog and the new Top Gear are (almost) one and the same.

Repackaging a media product and relaunching it when it was already a success was going to be a challenge. What do you keep? What do you change? Why did you stop? Why are you bothering to restart?  Who even cares?

Top Gear 2.0 has met with mixed reviews. Chris “I want to punch that ginger ferret” Evans* and Matt “Good looking but a little dull” LeBlanc** are pawns in a much bigger game. Squillions of pounds in distribution rights across 214 territories worldwide and an estimated global audience of 350 million makes TG the most widely watched factual television program in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Who wouldn’t want to try to anchor this programme for all that fun in so many countries not to mention all that dosh.

But you can’t make magic from a recipe. Magic is first the recipe and then a little something extra and although TG2.0’s audience stats are OK for a launch issue as Evans petulantly asserts, it is missing the little something extra. The magic in TG1.0 was that each week Clarkson dished it out and Hammond and May took it.  In TG 2.0 Evans dishes it out and LeBlanc dishes it out too and I can only see a head-to-head sooner or later. Clarkson in a Robin Rialto was funny. Evans and LeBlanc in a Robin Rialtos is, at best, tacky mimicry.  Homage to TG1.0 is fine but adding a short off-road bit (the “dirt section” says Evans – fnar fnar!) to the test lap is going nowhere, programmatically.

TG2.0 is a timid half-change; safe-keeping and re-framing programme assets and not boldly-going anywhere very much at all. Not so much a relaunch as a smudgy transit from A to B.  I have to make my new blogs better than that, so no pressure there then.

*twitter said that

**I said that

Moore’s Law is dead. Now what?

Gordon Moore’s Law stated that the number of transistors on a chip would double about every two years.  Moore worked for Intel and predicted this in 1965.  His chip had 64 transistors on it and the one in my smartphone has over 1 billion.  He was spot on.

moore's law

The prediction has held good for 50 years which is pretty amazing but what’s most interesting is that it’s now faltering.  We’ve reached the end of the line and we just can’t make them any smaller – or so Intel has quietly admitted.

This reflects another law (a particular hobby horse of mine) which is that nothing at all is ever truly sustainable if it consumes something else, or, put another way, everything has a limit.  I blogged four years ago (Why running is like Chocolate cake) about the futility of the eternal pursuit for economic growth and why runners can only get so fast.  Remarkably prescient in view of the latest news about Greece.

Runners unable to get faster and chips unable to get smaller is actually quite exciting in that it means another curve will be on the ascent and maybe a whole new technology or a new sport will emerge based on something completely new.  Can’t wait.

What Pride is.

I found myself talking to a friend recently about a short film I’d found of an Irish musician Pete Doran.  It was filmed by a videographer I admire called Myles O’Reilly.  Myles’ films are short, edgy stories usually featuring a folk musician or band either from, or performing in, his beloved Ireland.  They’re really good.

proud_faceMany of them depict the struggle of the aspiring musician, the bleak weather of Ireland, stuffy pubs poorly lit, ale, smoke, poverty and friendship with a heady mix of passion and national pride.

We got to talking about the diversity of pride; Irish Pride is evident in so many of the faces of the folks in O’Reilly’s films.  But each region expresses its own kind of pride in its people; Welsh, Scottish, English, African pride.  Aussie pride.  Inuit pride.  They’re all as different as the places themselves, the faces, the accents, the architecture, the food, the beer…

Pride rises in the face like a glow; half in smile, stern-jawed, eyes wide,we stare towards a distant horizon as it permeates us.  It’s what we feel at all the most important moments in our lives and it’s what we feel when we connect as couples, teams, nations and races.  Pride can help lift us from despair and can help defend us from attack.  And for all its diverse forms it does these things for us all, irrespective of colour, creed or nation, all the time.

Pride knows no barriers and is a defining characteristic for a people but it is also a delicate thing.  Too much and it becomes arrogance.  Too little and it ceases to be.  What a wonderful thing.

Hops, barley and just a touch of irony.

One of the nice things about living in a village like Sarratt is that there is a heady mix of people, dogs, horses, cars and pubs.  Some of the folks in Sarratt are descendants of many generations of Sarratt dwellers and others just come here to drink or do business in the “Business Park”.

The Business Park is one of Sarratt’s best-kept secrets, half way down Church Lane midway between the Cricketers and the Cock pubs, it’s more of a farmyard with a stables than Stockley Park East.

The horses look out over a row of units that contain a cleaning firm, a Ferrari garage…and a Brewery.  Micro-breweries like Paradigm are on the up and Neil Hodges and Rob Atkinson have sunk their savings into this project.  It’s a neat little factory using equipment bought from another brewery which was closing down.  Their “WinWin” and “Low Hanging Fruit” Ales are a homage to the corporate lives they left behind.

Although the temperatures, recipes and cleanliness have to be absolutely spot-on to get a consistent result, brewing ale is just cookery so you can make as much or as little as you want, using new recipes as seasons or markets demand.

I loved making this little film not least because it is the first time I have ever, (or am likely to ever again) taste beer directly from a brewing vat called Perky.  It was bloody fantastic.

Open Letter to Vodafone (or Where’s the Edge?)

vodafone03Dear Directors of Vodafone and those responsible for the service to us, your bill-paying customers.

I have been a customer of yours for around 20 years.  I founded a business and ran all (hundreds of) my phones through you. My Family have all been Voda customers for as long as I can remember and for this I have paid my bills faithfully but now I’ve had enough and here’s why.

I pre-ordered a new Samsung “Edge” in February.  You failed to deliver on the target launch date (9th April) so I called to discover you had no stock – despite a national advertising campaign to say the phone was available.

I rang again a week later to discover still no stock. Would you call me when stock arrives?  No Sir, we can’t call you, you have to call us.  At an average call duration of 30 minutes, (I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man, – what does that song even mean?) I called every Tuesday and Thursday (stock delivery days at Voda distribution) for four weeks to discover still no stock was available.

Finally, after a lifetime of calling twice a week to be told Samsung had let you down I got a phone – the wrong phone.  More calls – oh, sorry, the order was incorrect; so we’ve fixed that – we’ll send another handset next week.  Please accept 2 months tariff free by way of compensation; don’t leave us.

Three weeks later I did get another phone – another wrong phone – £1,450 of smartphone tech sent late and without explanation leaving me to arrange returns.

More calls to discover how such incompetence could have arisen. Gushing apologies from your customer services but please could I wait another 5 days and pay £9 for another delivery.  This amount was later refunded but no, you couldn’t offer more compensation nor could you sort this out in 24 hours – “that’s not how the company works”.  Clearly.

Four days later a text arrived to say the delivery was postponed by another day.  A courier will “uplift” (sic) the wrong phone and deliver the right one.  He did arrive – empty handed, asking for “a pickup”. I ticked the box saying “pickup not ready”, bid him a polite goodbye and called Voda.  I was disconnected after 20 minutes holding for the returns department. Rang back; 1 hr 24m later, 5 different depts. (security at each step), no stock at HQ so they rang round their stores to find…no stock in the stores either!  And so it goes on.

So far, (and its not over yet) you have cost me three days at home waiting for deliveries that have not come and around 5 hours of telephone calls and a half hour queue at the post office.  You’re marketing a phone you don’t yet have, from a manufacturer you blame for not delivering, sending out wrong phones to your customers not once but twice, offering platitudes and paltry compensation.   Access to your support is an assault on the senses, taking not just 30 minutes but the very will to live.  Your agents make the same promise – to “own” my problem yet I need to recite my problem to each one and they’ve all failed to resolve it.

Twelve weeks after my order I still do not yet have my new phone. And as your competitors encircle me for my business let me tell you this.  You do not deserve your licence nor any customer loyalty. Your customer service is inept, you have broken too many promises and I have lost trust in you.  You have failed me completely and you show little care for my plight.  You are a broken brand.

Just how social is social media?

There was a time when advertising was just that; advertising.  You took a brand and you presented it in a relevant and appealing context then you poured yourself a whiskey, lit a cigarette and sat back waiting for your audience to notice it and act upon it.

marlboroman

Then along came Social Media and spoilt the party.

Look, I’m a fan of the genuinely social aspects of Social Media as I sit here writing my blog which will go to Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin…  But how influenced are you, the reader, by what I have to say?  I have some experience of brands and advertising but you didn’t know that and you don’t know how much either.  Why would you act on my recommendation?

I learned this week that one ad agency’s social media department has risen from three people to twenty.  And what are they all doing?  They’re creeping about the web helping us make decisions about what brands to buy and where to find them.

But is a paid army of professional advocates contributing to social intercourse or are they just social agents provocateurs?  In the pub, you’re offered a pint, there are four to choose from and a bystander says “that Rusty Bucket Pale Ale is mighty fine – I’d get one of those!” you might listen and give it a try.  But if that person was on duty for Rusty Bucket Ales Ltd and was on commission for every customer he converted you might a) feel a little compromised and b) be a little less likely to buy that beer.

Social Media has surpassed critical mass. It’s the no-brain channel of choice for brands and its effects are subtle, effective, mostly free and often invisible.  But I regret the latest morph of Social Media.  It’s become more insidious than influential and brands will come a cropper if they abuse their social credentials or are seen to compromise their social channels.

The Marlborough Cowboy died of cancer and I hope social media doesn’t catch its own cold.