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Monday 6 August 2007

UK Gov goes backwards on net marketing

The Central Office of Information (COI) has decided to pull all its government advertising from social networking sites.

They are currently running armed forces ads via YouTube and have used MySpace and Bebo before.

This follows the latest beat-ups on the Web from MSM (MainSteam Media). This time it's the Sunday Times, linking brands to the BNP via Facebook. Vodafone, First Direct, Halifax, Prudential, Virgin Media and the AA have deserted Facebook. eBay have not.

Plus the BBC's increasingly ridiculous primetime ratings-chaser Panorama criticized YouTube for refusing to police so-called 'happy slapping' videos, and damned Peugeot and Carphone Warehouse. [The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) called Panorama 'misleading', I'd call it a very good example of the worst sort of tabloid TV.] And Teachers' Unions want the Internet banned.

A lot of bellowing, confused people all sounding like they want the whole thing stopped and for us all to live in somewhere censored and filtered and quiet - like China? Sites are changing content because of this (as they would).
[Register comment]: I work for a large uk website that is made of user generated content.

Our media provider (who serves the ads) has asked us to pull various bits of content and retire entire sections of the site to please the advertisers.

Thank you Panorama, are you the Taliban-wing of the BBC? I notice that News Online is undermining your argument again (see 'Cyber bullying - don't blame the web'), as they did over WiFi.

As Scottish social marketeer Andrew Girdwood puts it:
If you are going to venture out into social media then this sort of thing is going to happen
This is COI chief executive Alan Bishop:
We don't want to exclude use of any of the new social media but we do have to have a very clear idea of what the context is going to be like.
When the newspapers will spend lots of energy trying to place you in ANY negative context — see what the Mail did to 'Whitehall blogger' Owen Barder, taking comments out of context for example — this strikes me as plain wrong and naive.

I'm reminded of point six from the BBC's new Web 2.0 principles:
6. The web is a conversation. Join in: Adopt a relaxed, conversational tone. Admit your mistakes.
Appears not to have reached Panorama.

>>>I've reposted Tom Loosemore's slideshare about BBC 2.0: 15 Web Principles on it's own here by request.

Also reminded of much of what Tom Steinberg wrote in his recent report (for the government, most of which was accepted), The Power of Information.

Appears to have not reached the COI.

Effective government net marketing — hence 'reaching youth audiences through social networks' for example — is never going to happen unless someone gets some backbone and stands up to press/TV luddites. Someone like a politician.

Is it not slightly irresponsible not to go where the kids actually are?

It is just not possible to effectively use social media without something, somewhere which can be taken out of context.
  • Register:
    After extensive investigations, The Register can reveal that Vodafone rival Orange's adverts are running on the [Facebook] group "Aryan Satan Worshipers" [sic]. Sick.®
So change the context. It really, really needs it. The 'debate' is ridiculously ill-informed (see Panorama comments).

The commentators on the Guardian about the BNP/Facebook [Racists don't just read online ads] have no information about Web marketing, social networks etc. for which I blame the BBC, in large part.

How is this country's economy going to get anywhere if both politicians taking advantage and tabloid media are dominating the 'debate' and scaring people witless about the Web?

Some would like to change the context to this:
  • [blog comment]:
    NEW ad serving engines are appearing from companies like wunderLoop that are based not on the context of a sites content but on the indivdual and their behaviour, so that advertising appears related to their profile.
Do YOU want to be graded, profiled, judged and then your platform support withdrawn because you don't fit advertisers desires?

People are already talking about networks based on class.

Never mind how easily gamed that will be:
  • [blog comment]:
    I don’t think a filter system would do too well on social networks. Just imagine - if you knew there were certain trigger words or phrases to stop ads from being displayed on your profile, how easy would it be for people who don’t want ads on their profiles to include those so they get a commercial free profile?
It's very interesting that practitioners were also spooked by the gathering tabloid storm and rushed to say 'we will regulate online ad networks'. Although the American reaction to the BNP/Facebook furor has largely been bewilderment. But you can't have user-generated content + ads without some content or 'context' clanging up against something that someone doesn't want to see/hear. That's 'users' (the public) for you.
  • Nigel Gwilliam, senior communications manager at the IPA:
    Online ad networks need to address the issue of trust they now face and our view is that independent, random, campaign level audits are the best solution. In the mean time, agencies need to be vigilant when trading with networks, particularly with regard to high volume, low CPM deals.
MySpace, told the Guardian:
If advertisers are nervous, they can speak directly to us and we will make sure their advertising does not appear against user-generated content pages, or against any political parties. The best way is to come directly to us.
You either advertise/engage with 'user-generated content pages' or you don't. MySpace just said that.

It's not possible to filter it to meet the likes of the COI's very strict rules and guidelines.
  • Context is Content:
    The ability to connect anything to anything else online continues to challenge standards and practices.
So if you jump like this every time some - frankly - lateral link is made in the newspapers or tabloid TV, effective use of social media is just never going to get off the starting blocks.

The ballpark, the gameplan, the inventory, the master plan .. you've got to change the argument, the context to make real use of social media.


Postscript: I've been pointed at the following, from June > New PM to bring COI into 'MySpace era

It quotes an unnamed Minister saying:
COI has adopted more modern techniques in recent years but we think there is scope to go further. We want to make sure that it moves more fully into the YouTube and MySpace era.
The RAF YouTube page is currently running video diary entries from the front line in Kandahar.
[SAC Paul Goodfellow] is careful not to endanger the lives of others or include any breach of intelligence, but will speak openly about his day-to-day experiences as a gunner in the RAF.
Although I think ads can be controlled on their YouTube page, Paul's RAF diary is sharable - I just did this and it's below. Which means - yes - the BNP could use it the same as I am. Does that one possibility damn what is evidentially a good thing for the RAF?

RAF AFGHAN DIARIES: 10th July 2007

I don't think COI chief executive Alan Bishop has thought this one through:
We don't want to exclude use of any of the new social media but we do have to have a very clear idea of what the context is going to be like.


  1. Hi Paul,

    Sorry, it's take a while to get around to responding to this.

    Firstly, I'd better declare my interest - I work for COI. Very quickly secondly, I had better state that these comments are my own personal views only, not those of COI, but I felt it only fair for readers to know the context of my response.

    So, to my substantive points:
    1) don't believe everything you read in the press. There has been a lot of mis-information about this story; although in substance what you link to and state is generally accurate, as I understand it. The Times did rather a hash of it in a later story posted a few days later.

    2) To say that COI pulled the advertising isn't quite fair. It was only suspended while some question regarding the issues were explored; it was always the intention to re-introduce once satisfactory assurances were made.

    3) Tom's report certainly has reached COI. Unfortunately, he doesn't have complete knowledge of the machinations of government and the status of COI. COI on its own cannot do much of what was recommended as we are not funded centrally, like other government departments. We have to convince those central government department to spend their money in ways we recommend, not an easy task - especially in the digital world, which is still typically an after thought last minute thing.

    4) Not all the key players have a good understanding of these technologies as we do. They have to react in a way that our client's wish us to in reaction to concerns raised by press/public. So, while we may understand that context is not the same in digital as it may be in print or on TV our clients and other civil servants don't necessarily. The imperative is to go into damage limitation mode, rather than lose trust in the medium altogether and therefore harm potential future digital communication activity, while we work behind the scenes to persuade and sooth.

    So, overall I don't disagree with your post/points, but I don't entirely agree with your angle. I think it is to the benefit of society that we take steps forwards and backwards as necessary to ensure the integrity or the messages we are conveying to the users in all appropriate mediums.

  2. Thanks for your response Seb. I'm waiting to see if you blog about this + I'll respond at length then.

    This isn't just relevant to you! Doing social networks at work and have to nail explaining the lack of control over 'context' there too ;]


  3. Alas, I don't blog - personally or professionally. I've been trying to persuade the powers that be that we should be...