August 2006 Archives

Incredible but true, someone has come up with an online ad more annoying than the punch-the-monkey idea - an ad so successful that I still have no idea what the vendor was trying to push, but the ad itself is now permanently burned into my memory. It seems somebody thought this was such a winning idea that they dusted down the idea and gave it a sonic makeover. Actually, make that a sonic attack - because you will think only of yourself when you encounter this one. It makes "download or we'll hijack your browser" fake spyware-detection software look benign.

It's a mosquito that you have to hit to "get a free laptop". Luckily, I had the audio switched to headphones when I stumbled across this one, and they were lying on the floor. A synthetic mosquito noise isn't pleasant even at that range. The only way to stop the buzzing is to hit the mosquito, triggering the popup. Hitting the mosquito isn't tough, as you'd expect, because the chances of the operating responsible sending me a free laptop just for clicking a mouse are practically zero. I didn't wait to find out, however. With the other hand I was ready with the Apple-W keys to zap the new window as quickly as it appeared. So, I have absolutely no idea what this scam offer is all about.

But I do hope they are paying for each click on this ad.

Fitting to the curve

14 August 2006

The one place where you would expect the Long Tail model of markets to apply is on websites. After all, they spawn pages easily and serving an unpopular page up is no more expensive than providing the same one time and time again to many different people. OK, with caching the way it is, that's not quite true. But the difference in cost between the two is way different from providing unpopular CDs from stock compared with top sellers.

Website usability consultant Jakob Nielsen thought he would analyse his own website to see how well it fit the Long Tail model - a curve that follows Zipf's law. It hugs the axes on a regular graph, giving you the impression that only a few elements are important because they score so much higher than all the others. But, if you add the contributions from the small fry together, they turn out to be as important as the few hits. One characteristic that Nielsen noted is that if you plot this kind of distribution on a log-versus-log graph, you get a straight line.

Who is the most dumb in this situation? The people in the Big Brother house getting voted on or off? Or those paying 50p a throw to vote them on or off - and then complain en masse to Ofcom when the programme producer Endemol decided to sneak in an extra vote? Rather than just say "to hell with it" and turn over to watch something with a vague hint of neural stimulation, close to a thousand decided to ring up the regulator, Ofcom, and moan about Endemol's greed.

In this case, Endemol has said it won't profit from the latest wheeze - the profits will go to charity, the company claimed. However, the company has made no secret about its willingness to make extra cash from what it calls "brand exploitation" (as opposed to viewer exploitation). If you look at Endemol's most recent financial reports, the company has seen a lot of extra money pile in from adding more and more premium-rate dial-in and Short Message Service (SMS) text response opportunities to its programmes. Some of its shows are now purely about getting viewers to pay through the nose to take part.

Hats off to Sam who posted the comment that provided the title for this post at Adfreak as people like Steve Rubel got all worked up about an ad agency making a video for YouTube in a desperate attempt to win the account for sandwich shop Subway. Various people burst out in howls of outrage at how Subway's brand would be damaged by these people posting a pitch video. And half the rest argued over whether it was a viral video or not, on the basis (paraphrasing slightly) that they don't suck and not because people email them to each other.

All I can say is that I wasted a good four minutes watching this - I didn't last the full nine and somehow I doubt that Subway will either unless they have bottomless patience for people declaring how far out of the box they can think. I have to confess, the cringeing horror of watching people make an arse of themselves in front of a video camera in true reality-TV style was absent. They were too dazzingly boring for that. Only one brand got damaged here and it wasn't Subway. People buying ad-agency time and 'ideas', you have my sympathy if this is the guff you have to watch. I'll wait a while before complaining about Powerpoint presentations again.

Cool for crowds

4 August 2006

It's not often that I find myself agreeing with Jeff Jarvis, which had me worried for a while as to whether I was suffering from a bile overdose. But I still cannot believe the thinking behind a resolution passed by a UK teachers' union, reported by the BBC, the Guardian and PA among others. Curiously, not the Daily Mail as far as I can tell.

At the Professional Association of Teachers annual conference, Wesley Paxton and Simon Smith argued for a resolution that has the look of many minor resolutions that get passed at union meetings: "Conference regrets that it does not appear to be 'cool' to be clever".

It's pretty innocuous stuff, but the speeches that went along with it were a bit more worrying if they represent what practicing teachers actually believe.