I had a Dad.

On April 22nd 1997 my father who I didn’t see terribly often as he lived in Canada came through London. I was sitting with him at a friends house in Hounslow when he told me that there was a pretty good chance that he had cancer and that it was ‘ok’. As far as I am aware I was the first of his six kids that he told but may be wrong.

Turns out he was on his way back from North Korea on his way to Cuba, where he was stuck for some time because he walked into the hospital with a vertebrae missing.

I didn’t see him again till his birthday in August by which time his lumbering  frame was reduced to a skeleton and his heavily accented but powerful voice reduced to a whisper; with turned out to be my last.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardial_Bains

Tonight I was at a  party and was asked “have you seen your Dad’s name in the news?”.

Erm? What? Like y’know – dead, longtime, missed.

“Aravindan Balakrishnan”

err – who?

Psycho Maoist Cult dude, which obviously I had heard about but didn’t get the connection.

So here I am googling the whole thing and discovering all sorts of interesting things.

Here’s a selection:

http://theministerspen.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/communist-party-of-england-marxist.html
http://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.hightide/cpestatements.htm
http://m.vice.com/en_uk/read/south-londons-long-history-of-crazy-fringe-communist-groups
http://efp.org.uk/marxist-slave-cult-carried-out-anti-fascist-assault/
http://socialistunity.com/thoughts-british-maoism/
http://howiescorner.blogspot.co.uk/2013_11_01_archive.html
Having avoided party politics my entire life, and reading the various diatribes – I find myself absolutely fascinated by all this, especially knowing fine well that ‘Truth’ and ‘Politics’ are  by definition mutually exclusive, leaving everything in the angst of the beholder.  Having said that, whilst I a few  the people mentioned in the various articles I remember, and I did indeed go to Albania in the 80′s and was exposed to the then government. I was 12. Mental.

I’m now 42, married, two kids and as a first generation geek that never really grasped any level of doctrine since logic dictates that  the only constant in life is change.

But find myself nonetheless considering the profound reality that that the insanity of a currently Live mad-man by way of  the ‘back in the day’ machine is  going to be most likely forever associated with that of a particular dead man, my Dad. 

So politics and fucking psycho’s aside – I just wanted to say – I had a Dad. He loved his kids. Was glue to the entire extended family. Was good to his friends. Was an inspiration to others. Could command a room but seriously could not do small talk, utterly socially inept. Loved watching dodgy soap opera’s in his pyjama’s. Was a fantastic cook. Was shockingly good at Monopoly and most card games. Was understanding when I dropped out of University to be like, a DJ and supported me when I decided to write a music fanzine. Told me that there was no point in having a conversation with me because I wasn’t intellectually ‘there’ yet  and then just as I could sort of keep up in my 20′s. Died.

I guess that’s all I have to say about that.

My ‘presentation’ from SMWLondon

I was asked to sit on a panel with the likes of Twitter and Facebook and talk about the big things for 2014 – the brief was  to focus integration of social media across brands. I had started something but due to ‘real’ work commitments didn’t actually get what I was going to present finished in time – thankfully I was last so had an extra hour to clean it up. With no disrespect the other four speakers did very slick, eloquent sales pitches.

I wrote a poem.

Yep, probably ill-conceived  but I just couldn’t face doing yet more death by powerpoint extolling the joys of social media to those who in theory have already drunk the kool-aid.  I also couldn’t really face talking about ‘Integration’ so split the rant in two and covered off just enough to still respond to the ‘brief’ as it were. I haven’t touched it since and frankly bits of it don’t scan or make huge amounts of sense but there are a couple of nice bits and I thought i’d share!

Apologies in advance as it’s more Seuss than Shakespeare

What’s gonna the biggest shift in social media in 2014.

 

Integration the brief which belies belief
That an external force provides the source
When looking at social or media or whatever
We much start to make things internally together

Having heard about context, content and scale
But how to exploit will make you wail!
Forced to recognise yourself and your mob
You realise agencies can’t do that job

The prime directive ‘know thyself’
Is hard to outsource to somebody else.

Integration starts at home
Departmental divides
A de-socialised zone

Directing through a transparent haze
Consumer response – upper management glaze
On an x monthly cycle we pay love to retention
To our consumers who increasingly bemoan our attention

In 2014 we hopefully transition
Away from ‘social’ media without hesitation
with nerry a complaint we evolve the situation
from graph to relevance to contextual location

In our utopian world where consumers are saviours
Every campaign starts with observed online behavior
New found respect for those who pay all your bills
Being relevant, and caring or just giving – for thrills!

‘Creative’ becomes pointless at a granular level
cross sell your mates coz we’re in affiliate hell.

Paid defined as media
Earned becomes media
Owned content is … well media
And Media is just media

Social the word will stop getting through
And dropped in the same way as how we used to use ‘New’
Social and Media this oxymoronic pair
Part themselves finally and go, well? Elsewhere!

But frankly this is the worst kind of obfuscation
Because the biggest threat next year is: legislation

Porn, abortion, copyright, defamation,
Evolution, lie detection, drug interception
Laundering bit coins a thing of the past
The future is coming a little bit to fast

to be forgotten, the basic human right
legal liability becomes everyone’s fight

From cookies and cream to the TPP
There is no more expectation of privacy,
the united NS of A and GCHQ
Shows the law of the lands are just for the few

The disrupted models
disrupting new models
disrupting future models.
Disrupting you
obsolete gatekeepers legislate the new

One strike two strikes, three strikes oh well
Sharing culture invokes legacy hell
Finger pointing, Finger printing, gun printing, run
Don’t you dare make gun shaped food for fun

too much democracy and sensitive souls,
too many thin skins, too many trolls
Contextual conversation past it’s peak
hate speech curtailed so we now hate to speak

too many pictures uploaded yourself
But we need laws if done by somebody else
too much revenge when relationships end
So much humanity and no common sense.

Rarified Lawyers with too much to do.
sue over both bad and even good reviews,
sue for retweeting mistakes of the press
just arguing now has legal redress

imprisoned for bad jokes is taking the piss
As is fining for sharing and staring at, err bits
Being sued over patents as obvious as sin,
with that kind of trolling don’t know where to begin

So in 2014 all these sites randomly blocked
because of overly protective political thought
Chilling the net because they are mad
believing it would be a ‘good’ idea to stop something ‘bad’.

 

Hey, Cameron, Leave our Kids Alone.

(I wrote this back in July – it was supposed to be published in The Drum but for reasons best left to them it just sat there, oh well – anyway – it’s still relevant and I’m writing a follow-up so I felt the need to get it out there for the half a dozen folk who read this! This would have been number 16 in the ‘What were they thinking’ series btw.)

I feel profoundly as a politician, and as a father, that the time for action has come… We need to stop Vile images of child abuse on the internet which are illegal

David Cameron July 2013

Our leader, our moral compass, our ‘captain oh captain’ has shown his utter lack of inspiration and absolute desperation in trying to resolve the fundamental problem that he is most likely, in political terms anyway, going down in history’s as a cautionary tale of how destructive a prime minister can actually be. All in the name of our children.

  • He had the opportunity to make a name by going after the banks who destroyed our children’s futures.
  • He could have been the one who finally got the darker side of the media under control instead of endorsing Page 3 as a consumer choice.
  • He could have made sure every kid in the country had a computer, or hell, had milk at lunchtime.
  • He could have made a stand to prevent rationing of paediatric units.
  • He could have kept a system which provided affordable childcare so people can afford to work.
  • He could have fought to keep money in the public school system instead of encouraging Academies.
  • He could have made it harder and less attractive for kids to start smoking.
  • He could have stopped criminalising youth with Mosquito’s and surveillance, creating the most alienated generation ever.

But No! When it comes to our kids, he weighed up all the options and decided to look after the moral well being of our children, because we are incapable of doing it ourselves.

When your back is against the wall, often the best recourse is to utter the words ‘For the Children’. It’s the safest thing you can possibly say – more often than not you get away with it because it’s unlikely that anybody is going to argue with the sentiment.

What was he thinking?

Back in July ago, whilst conferring with the NSPCC our leader decided to go after the porn. What do you think was going through his head at the time, what was the brief that lead us to this conclusion?

  • Given the amount of negative press around GCHQ, Prism, etc. can we find a positive spin on government interference with the web?
  • The cause is something which nobody is going to disagree with on principal – low hanging fruit which doesn’t provide too much tax revenue? (Note: The porn industry has shrunk by almost 90% in the last 6 years, and most of the money lives in the US so therefore not a very lucrative target for fund or tax raising.)
  • We need to avoid anything which will require significant parliamentary sign-off in case it back fires.
  • We can leverage with the bad press the tech industry has had recently around tax avoidance to guilt them into action.
  • We don’t actually care whether it’s actually possible – it just needs to sound plausible. In fact the ease which people can circumvent could be turned into a blessing as an argument for stronger regulation, moving the conversation from ‘should we’ to ‘how can we’.
  • It needs to sound like we’re doing the public a favour – using language like ‘opt-in’, ‘protect’ and ‘default’.
  • We can’t be seen to be taking any responsibility for any collateral damage. Who can we make responsible for ‘black listing’; we can then pass the blame when large chunks of the Internet just disappear by accident.
  • We can use such big broad terms like ‘Pornography’ without clear definition allowing us to move the ‘line’ as it suits our purpose.

A winning strategy?

It’s actually a pretty strong strategy from a political point of view but elegantly illustrates how fundamentally dangerous people with lots of power and very little actual knowledge can be. It neatly hides some of the longer term agendas that this would facilitate. For example: If you asked a kid if they had a choice of watching Iron Man 3 / Twilight 6 / w’ever big hollywood flick online or pornography for free what do think the response would be? We all know – but it actually doesn’t matter – that’s the genius of Cameron’s master plan – since both are ‘illegal’ and now we have our filters in place; we can kill two birds with one stone! In fact there are a bunch of things which the moral majority are opposed to so let’s let people opt out of them too – ‘esoteric material’, ‘web forums’, ‘social networks’ for instance. Why stop at porn?

What could he do better?

I’m entirely against censorship but if we just do a ‘what if’ the argument that hiding porn from kids will prevent bad things from happening then surely there are a whole bunch of other factors.

First and foremost, blocking isn’t removing it as the Polish prime minister pointed out, he also rightly said – “We shall not block access to legal content regardless of whether or not it appeases us aesthetically or ethically.”
 Where is the strategy to catch the ‘bad actors’ (sorry in this context it’s a great term). You would have to be pretty stupid to allow your illegal porn to be google index-able anyway and surely if you did it then wouldn’t it become trivial for find and prosecute you?

In fact I suspect 99% of what is technically kiddy porn is by the kids, for the kids as the rise of sexting and snap chat show – it’s peer to peer as opposed to pervert to pervert. This is in part an education issue but also a consequence of every teenager having an internet enabled phone in their hands.  Finding the real sicko’s requires good detective work to counter rather than the mass criminalisation of youth.

Spending money on education seems to be out of the question. If you don’t know how to ‘use the net’ then frankly you are at a massive disadvantage anyway. Wouldn’t the money be better spent helping people understand how they, themselves, can keep their children safe. For most of these kids online porn isn’t the problem anyway – online bullying is – and this, again does nothing to help that.

One of Cameron’s arguments is that this behaviour is as a result of exposure to negative portrayal of women in Porn. If that’s the case then isn’t mainstream media just as responsible? Showing my age but I remember the first time seeing ‘S-Club Jr’s’ and thinking that the world has officially gone nuts. Pop culture is the definition of the over-sexualisation of youth. But do I think it should be censored? No, of course not.

If there’s a watershed on the TV then why isn’t there one for the internet?

As has been demonstrated dramatically with the blocking of the Pirate Bay – most moves to censor shine a light on the unsavoury and in fact increase traffic to the sites, not the other way round.  Streisand will attest to that. Not least the tools like Immunicity to circumvent are already there rendering the whole thing a bit pointless.

And that’s the problem. In one fell swoop he has made the ISPs responsible for the content of the net.  – Just look about the current debate around Twitter’s status as a platform or publisher. This is substantially more far reaching than simply just the ability to rapidly report and act on abuse. It set’s the precedent that those who maintain the ‘phone lines’ are responsible for obscene phone callers.  The impact of one of the G8 pushing this forward (largely because they couldn’t in the US due to their pesky constitution, will, and already is being felt globally. You can pretty much exclude all user-generated content. Our future becomes the curation of authorised media. Great.

A few months about when we were all discussing ‘the right to be forgotten’ Cameron tried to push through rules in the E.U. saying that each country should have their own policy on how they deal with it. Which is as impractical as this filtering nonsense.

Overly dramatic yes, but illustrates why politicians should stay the hell away at least until they fundamental understanding about how the internet works.

Ultimately he seeks causality in the consumption of something legal and consumed by many with the work of an individual mad mother fracker. One. Not an epidemic, not a patient Zero. One sadly disturbed individual who went out and raped & killed a child the same age as my son. That to me is horrifying but does it make me fear for the safety of my son. Well no, he is still more likely to get knocked over by a bus, by a substantial order of magnitude than he is to be the victim of a sexual predator. At least I hope that is the case, the reality is that nothing Saint David is proposing will make my son any safer than he is right now. Therefore, we will parent and educate to equip our children and ourselves.

David. For our Freedom. For our Future.  For Frack Sake. Stop it. For the Children.

Jon Bains is a father of two and partner in business futures practice Atmosphere

O2 I be done with you?

a straight forward data plan is all I desire

When quizzing O2 my incumbent supplier

As my contract ended and you called in excess

To convince me I didn't want an iPhone 5s

 

Hung up they did having interrupted my flow

Upsell or cross sell a distant after glow

 

the valiant and misguided said

'That's not till next year –

I have a Samsung S4 which is

way pucker gear!'

An obsession with apple
For this or for that
Is redundant, with the power of
A Kit and a Kat

That's oranges I cried and at best an untruth

I know you trying to maximise my ARPU

 

Yet your clear desperation to convince me to stay

Assumes my IQ has nose dived the wrong way

 

so with requirements clear

And tariffs far fromnear

Your endless interruptions

An ill conceived faff

Has swayed me to engage

With a healthy Giff Gaff

The irony of course that you all share the same pipe

Illustrates the contempt for those who worship

The byte.

So, Goodbye O2 you good natured dope
And hello O2 you MVNO

May the Force be with you as you Tumblr your way though the Creative Cloud.

Posted on the Drum a while back, I’ve updated it a bit. 

Developing a sustainable customer value proposition today can be very difficult. In english that means matching up what you are offering versus what the consumers actually want. Most of us are familiar with the term ‘Value for Money’ i.e. it’s about price. However that’s only one factor in the equation. Whenever you see anybody use the word ‘Premium’ it means, we aren’t the cheapest, we are better than them in some objectively identifiable way, better fabric, better whooshing noise, go faster stripes etc. Basically about definable product attributes. When it comes to services you have a whole set of other emotional triggers – do you trust them, is it easy, do they help me, is it for me, did I enjoy it etc.

The relative weights of all the factors which make up your relevance to the consumer are constantly shifting and apparently insignificant tweaks can lead to complete failure if you aren’t careful. It’s one of these things you see every day and yet brands and services keep falling into the same trap, sometimes because of greed, others just circumstance

It’s worth reminding ourselves the Holy trinity of ‘Company’, ‘Brand’ and ‘Product’ have been mashed together in consumers minds now. Corporate behaviour influences consumers now in ways far more profoundly than could ever happen in the pre web world and so the value proposition goes far beyond just the product at hand.

I thought it would be interesting to look at a few current examples of how and why these changes occur and what the impact can be.

Adobe Creative Cloud

What did you used to get?

Every other year Adobe would release a suite of software (at various price points) which you would then ‘own’. This would be updated sporadically over that cycle, usually doing a feature bump about a year in. You would then be charged an upgrade fee for each 1.0 upgrade (and the odd 0.5 one too). If you are a business owner this model is bittersweet – you need enough licences for all your bums-on-seats. Too many it’s not efficient, too few expensive upfront cost. It should be noted that software can be depreciated for tax purposes over time so there is a bit of a break there.

What’s changed?

Recently Adobe created a great deal of noise when it announced the end of their ‘Creative Suite’ as a boxed product, moving to a subscription model instead. Microsoft have been doing the same, if a bit more cautiously, with Office 365. It makes a huge amount of financial sense for them to shift to these kinds of models as you can get more cash from the consumers, for longer, reduce their bi-annual big marketing spike in favour of drip feeding feature upgrades. The idea was also to curb piracy but given the newest edition of Creative Cloud was hacked within 24 hours not entirely sure it helped.

What do you get now?

  • Convenient access to most up to date software
  • A teeny tiny bit of space in a cloud
  • Some online services

What you give? 

  • An ongoing subscription
  • Your freedom of choice
  • The inability to just buy the suite or individual components like Photoshop outright
  • The inability to depreciate your investment against tax.

What’s the consequence?

Actually for the Professional set who use the tools everyday as part of their workflow there are massive advantages to the subscription model. However, if you use the applications infrequently it becomes a very real tax. Many out there are having a long hard look at their own requirements and realising that actually they don’t need the cannon when a peashooter will do. There are many alternatives out there in the market like Pixelmator, which costs a tenner, has many of the same features of photoshop, but squarely aimed at pro/amateurs. It opens up the ecosystem for a smaller players to sneak in as has already happened on IOS.

What could they have done better?

Followed Microsoft’s example and had a transitional period. Potentially stop selling the Suite but continue selling the individual applications.

Tumblr

With the recent tumblr acquisition things are very much up in the air as far as what changes are likely to happen to the service. The general tone from the new owners is ‘Keep Calm and Carry On, we won’t break it, we promise’.

What did you used to get?

Ease of use. Blogging for folk who be bothered writing loads.  Open and non-judgemental. No ads or any real explicit business model barring a sale or IPO. Young and independent. Not-Facebook. A way to collectively share interests / obsession without the underlying commerciality of Pinterest. Trust.

What’s changing?

High profile acquisition by a ‘legacy’ digital business who has a well documented history of ‘breaking’ their newly integrated services.

What you give (currently)

Cats. White men wearing Glass. More Cats.  Basically lots of content.

What’s the consequence

Significant but not catastrophic (yet) migration from the service – principally to WordPress. Unsurprising really as for many, especially the younger audience,  the content creation route has been Twitter –> Tumblr –> WordPress.

But still, why the panic? Let’s just give yahoo the benefit of the doubt and assume they won’t wall it off and kill it the way they did with Flickr and delicious and do in fact keep it exactly the same.  The key part of the value proposition that has changed right now is Trust. Yahoo didn’t spend a billion on it to let them just do what they do on perpitude. There needs to be a bit of commercial flavouring mixed in now or soon because its such a big bet on yahoo’s behalf they will need to show a return pretty damn quickly.  We know this, everyone knows this and poof, just like that trust earned is replaced with suspicion and revulsion.

This provides great opportunity for others in the space to hoover up the disenchanted. I’m actually really surprised that WordPress hasn’t launched an ‘ImPRESSion’ product yet using a simplified skin or app on top of their existing software. They could out Tumblr Tumblr in a heartbeat actually.

*UPDATE

Various reports with various reasons suggest Tumblr has cracked down on Porn and changed their policy on search. Most feel this is Yahoo’s influence although founder denies it.

What could they have done better?

They got a BILLION dollars. The owners don’t really care do they? If they did, they would have spent more time upfront working with Yahoo to agree a commercialisation roadmap and share it with their users. Would be more intellectually honest and in tune with the spirit of Tumblr. Time will tell whether the migration continues.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

About a year and a half ago, with great fanfare there was the launch of ‘the old republic’ a massively multiplayer game based on the smash hit star wars series ‘Knights of the old republic’. With over a million initial sign-ups it was the fastest growing MMO in history.

What did you get?

This was the first major licensed Star Wars MMO since Star Wars Galaxies, which whilst popular with the very hardcore didn’t really gain traction with the masses, especially in a post Warcraft World.  SW:TOR had High production values, multi-platform, easy to get into and even apparently fits within Star Wars cannon for the uber geeks.

What changed?

Whilst adoption was extremely quick, so was drop off. Everyone appreciated the ‘Star Wars’ but the content didn’t match the expectations of a typical MMO user. Instead of, as is often the case, killing it. They recognised they needed to engage a new audience. Whilst maintaining their subscription option they opened the game up as ‘Free-to-play’ charging micropayments to advance quicker and open new areas.

What’s the consequence?

As a result they went from half a million players to 1.7m in a few weeks and doubled their revenue at the same time.  It introduced a whole bunch of people who haven’t played MMO’s before but are susceptible to ‘get them hooked and jack up the price’. Nice one. Of course it’s not all roses, the hardcore players who have been paying the whole time are now inundated by ‘a bunch of noobs’ who are more likely to dip in / dip out, which can be frustration. Hopefully they would recognise that it will increase the longevity of the title and provide funds to create more content.

What could they have done better?

They probably could have moved to the new model sooner. Complaints about the game started appearing within a few months of launch and they had a hard time developing sufficient content to keep the hardcore amused.

So what does it all mean?

Again, what the business wants and what the consumers want can easily get out of whack. Every time you tweak your offering never mind transforming your model, service or general proposition it’s just worth having a chat with your customers first. It’s perfectly reasonable to prioritise one customer over another – you are running a business after all – however before doing that understand why they are actually engaged with you as opposed to what you imagine want them to feel. You may find your biggest payers are actually not your biggest advocates and all those quietly content folk can make an awful din when riled.

Jon Bains is a partner in Atmosphere

A Manifesto for a Beautiful Bank

Last week in the Drum

 “Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked.”

Yet again the world of banking is in the spotlight. The Co-op is had been downgraded, Metro Bank posting larger than expected losses, and surveys suggesting that given the opportunity a significant number would switch their accounts away from the majors in a heartbeat, even given the devastating factoid that more people get divorced than change their bank. Barring the direct impact on your own personal finances, most of us can’t muster up the will to care. Why? Because regardless of how much the industry tries to clean itself up – be it retail or investment – they are perceived as greedy, untrustworthy and downright ugly.

In fact there a great number of adjectives used when talking about Banks, and most of them aren’t terribly complementary. Funnily enough, Beautiful is not one of them. Given the interest I had from looking at Barclays Business social media a few weeks ago, I thought it might be interesting to imagine what the ‘Beautiful’ Bank of the future might look like, especially when it’s held up to Wikipedia’s definition of beauty!

Perpetual experience of pleasure or satisfaction

We know who you are. We understand your pressures and we like talking to you. We are not off-shored; we are in-sync with you and your life. We want your business, we don’t discriminate on size or circumstance, we are for everyone. Your family, your house, your business, your passions. Wherever you are in your journey it’s one narrative, one story, one life. You are more than just a demographic, a segment, or a cross-sell opportunity. We look at the whole picture and proactively suggest, reward, remind and inspire – not just to win you over initially, but also to keep winning you over throughout.

We actively pursue a long meaningful relationship with our customers, putting long-term value ahead of short-term gains. Every interaction recognised as significant, and action taken swiftly to resolve issues. We promise that you’ll find the right person to talk to, as quickly as possible – be it online, in branch or by phone. Our staff are well versed and helpful, even suggesting money saving opportunities along the way. We track and hold ourselves against how satisfied you are with the resolution and your willingness to share the experience. We are beholden to you and hope we earn the same level of trust in return.

An entity which is admired

We are active in the community. We must contribute to the building of the society wherever we are. We help local businesses; providing a central hub for all discussions around finance and more. As with the post-office of old, or the local pub, we connect our customers together providing shared growth opportunities, both locally and nationally. Our success is measured by – the relationships we have nurtured, the lives we have changed, the communities that have blossomed, and the growth we have contributed to.

In balance and harmony with nature

We are a catalyst of change, not just in your pocket, but also in the world. If we are for everyone, then everyone is a stakeholder, and henceforth the definition stakeholder value is extended to demonstrate social good.  We know the world is a big place and that our own, and our customers’, investment in our future means nothing without investing in those around us.

We subscribe to the highest standards and try to make a positive impact on the environment. Being ‘Green’ is no longer seen as a ‘nice to have’ but as a mantra for efficiency across our entire business. Using less means more in so many ways.

In the eye of the beholder 

We ask ourselves every day – why would anybody want to talk to us?  We know many of the things we produce are only required at very specific times in your life. So when your ready we’ll be there be listening, chatting, helping. Our job is to provide options not upsells.

The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.

Closed door’s close off opportunity – opportunities to listen, to engage, to understand, to share, to innovate, and to evolve. The only confidence we keep is that of our customers. If our actions cannot be communicated to the public, then we probably shouldn’t be doing it.

This also applies to the language we use, many use jargon as a weapon to confuse, cajole and confound. We don’t. We translate, educate and simplify. We present our products and services, as they should be – straight forward, human and flexible. We avoid presenting a million variations designed to entrap. We pride ourselves in ensuring that you know what you are buying, why and what the alternatives are.  We provide the tools, we provide the insight, and if you like, we’ll sit down and explain it all.

Our openness extends across all of our activity. When we charge we promise to tell you in advance, and not just how much, but why. We believe that we should be paid for providing an excellent service, not because you made a mistake. When making big decisions, if you desire, we offer forecasting services to illustrate what might happen over time, so it’s crystal clear what the potential outcomes are. And not just the good news, we’ll even show you the worst-case scenario – all based on your life as it is, and how it may change. Where possible everything we sell has a returns policy, a cooling off period, just in case you feel you made a decision in haste or in error. We want to get it right for you; otherwise we have failed.

Where nothing needs to be added or taken away

The only truth is that everyone is different. We enable you to write your own rules and automate how your money moves around.

  • About to go overdrawn? Set up a rule to be notified and move some money from somewhere else
  • Working to a budget? Set a monthly limit and be notified how close you are to the edge
  • Hefty bill coming in? Automatically get an overdraft and automatically adjust your budget to quickly get back on in the black
  • Need a statement? A month is a long time to wait, so you choose how, when and where you get the information you need to effectively manage your finances.
  • Want to buy something big? Set up your own short-term savings objectives, which protect just a little bit every month. And if you want to divide up your money across different budgets you can do that to, all from one account.

We recognise that you may not conduct all your financial business with us. But we make it as painless as possible to move money around, from account to account, and from bank to bank. And if for any reason you want to leave us, we promise we will make it as painless and quick as it was to join.

When you need that little extra we provide the best terms. The necessity of having to ‘manage debt’ tends to come from bad products or bad planning. We ensure we will never knowingly put you in a position where you feel you are stuck, stressed and struggling to pay us back. If you need to change the terms on the fly, because your situation has changed, we’ll do it; in fact we will provide you with tools so you can do it yourself!

Beyond loans, we believe we can maintain margins by providing flexibility across all products and services.  We are all-weather friends who understand when things are tough and can adjust, defer or waive additional costs, which we know tend to come at the worst time. We offer services that dismiss bank charges entirely when you are down, in exchange for a slightly lower interest rate when you are up. Not good enough? –  We are open to suggestion.

How can we make these Beautiful Banks happen? I could tell you but I’d have to bill you!

Jon Bains is a partner at business futures practice Atmosphere

Having a McPlay™ with the ASA

Last week, on the Drum.

In general, overtly marketing to kids is pretty hard these days. Given media consumption habits it’s considerably more permission based than advertising standards would lead you to believe. Appreciating that my own household may not be entirely typical, it is pretty representative of the multi screen household of today or the day after.

We don’t watch any of what was traditionally called TV, i.e. we don’t watch linear programming, other than the news and CBeebies, occassionally. The kids tend to either fight over the iPad or play on a console, depending on who wins.  As a result they see very little direct TV advertising. When they go round friends houses and are exposed to ‘channels’, they have actually asked ‘why did the film stop?’

However both the iPad and  Xbox are commercial wonderlands. Just the other day there was a massive ad for some add-ons for Minecraft on the Xbox which caused no end of grief as I had to explain to the kids that I wasn’t paying three quid for an avatar TYVM. I won that argument but still ended up buying all the avatar packs on Scribblenauts on the iPad.

There has been a goodly amount of coverage about the dangers of micropayment in games so I’m not going to talk about that particularly, it factors in when looking at how traditional ‘kid friendly’ brands compete for the hearts and minds for our progeny in the non-linear, specifically App world.

What’s the story

Whilst not available in the UK (possibly ever), McDonald’s in the US have just launched their first app aimed directly at kids, called ‘McPlay’. It currently consists of one game which is apparently about healthy eating – haven’t played it myself yet. Interestingly it has on the title screen ‘This. Is Advertising!’ – which when you channel it through Leonidas from the 300 becomes quite amusing! At least it’s honest.

It’s a bit of a departure for them as most of the other McDonalds apps out there are glorified store-locators with the odd delivery service and in-store promotions. In fact a quick survey of the competitors paints a similar picture – store locators, menus, at home delivery. In fact I couldn’t find any other examples of fast food brands, such as Burger King and KFC, doing anything that is remotely targeted at kids. That’s what makes McPlay an interesting pivot point. Advergames were a mainstay of the interweb but there seems to be a bit of hesitancy in Appland,  in this category anyway.

So why not here? I thought be might be interesting to look at the ASA guidelines to see if they covered off this kind of activity. Yep, I’m that sad.

First off – do Apps even fall under the ASA?

The Code Applies to: “advertisements in non-broadcast electronic media, including but not limited to: online advertisements in paid-for space (including banner or pop-up advertisements and online video advertisements); paid-for search listings; preferential listings on price comparison sites; viral advertisements (see III l); in-game advertisements; commercial classified advertisements; advergames that feature in display advertisements; advertisements transmitted by Bluetooth; advertisements distributed through web widgets and online sales promotions and prize promotions.”

Well it doesn’t say ‘App’s’ outright I would say that they would be covered under either in-game advertisements or advergames. Philosophically of course one could argue that consumption of any franchise is in fact advertising but perhaps we best not go there.

“Marketers must not knowingly collect from children under 12 personal information about those children for marketing purposes without first obtaining the consent of the child’s parent or guardian.”

OK, so there’s a question – what data is actually being collected from these apps? Frankly unless you are actually registering your child directly  it would probably fall under anonymous or at worst the bill payer. However with so many apps these days asking to ‘upload your contacts’ who knows?

 “Marketers must not knowingly collect personal information about other people from children under 16 unless that information is the minimum required to make a recommendation for a product, is not used for a significantly different purpose from that originally consented to, and the marketer can demonstrate that the collection of that information was suitable for the age group targeted.”

If I read this right that could probably apply to all social networks. For example, Facebook’s age limit is 13 but given that they know the social graph of all under-16 year olds and use it to provide relevant advertising, does that count?

“Data about third parties collected from children must not be kept for longer than  necessary.”

Well hmmm, what does no ‘longer than necessary’ mean? For that matter, since we don’t know what data has been collected anyway, how can we check? Whilst I’m not convinced by current legislative proposals, in terms of best practice I suspect  all apps should allow you to review and/or delete capture info. No?

“Marketing communications addressed to, targeted directly at or featuring children must not exploit their credulity, loyalty, vulnerability or lack of experience.”

Actually that whole statement makes me shudder when I think of all the stuff my kids have on their iPad. The entire multi-billion ‘free-to-play’ world is preys on exactly that.

 “Children must not be made to feel inferior or unpopular for not buying the advertised product.”

Can’t get through a level? Haven’t unlocked Zorg the Mankiness? Getting frustrated? Get on the High Score Chart by buying some of our tokens!?

“Adult permission must be obtained before children are committed to buying.”

Apple require you to enter your password for in-app purchases and other related app purchases. However as of IOS 6 they changed it so that if the App is free, it doesn’t require a password. Personally I think  it’s the parents responsibility to know what their kids are doing, however even with parental controls I can’t stop the kids downloading a free-to-play honeypot.

“Must not include a direct exhortation to children to buy an advertised product or persuade their parents or other adults to buy an advertised product for them.”

Now this is tricky. As mentioned before – my kids bring me the iPad all the time and say ‘I want that’. Whose fault is that?

I was quite surprised at how well thought out most of their code is or was anyway, it’s just a bit unenforceable currently really and needs refreshed with a few more practical suggestions. If these guidelines were actually being applied to apps, then the app store might be significantly different.

The Grilling Effect

Concern over Childrens safety in Appland and frankly all digital channels increasingly in focus. Be it economically or morally, the eyes of the world are looking through the eyes of the child now. In the marketing world it’s really hard not to mix-up brands with In-App purchases; be it overt or covert they are still encouraging you to buy something.

Food for thought?

A simple-ish resolution may be in the content rating system. If ‘permission must be obtained’ in the advertising or in-app space before buying anything then frankly the apps themselves should be rated at the age of consent i.e. 12+, 16+, however counter intuitive that may seem. While Apple has included the line ‘Contains in-app purchases’, that doesn’t say very much compared to varying scales within. If my kid downloads ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ for free for the iPhone and it’s rated  3+, and then they are accosted with cross-selling ads for a million other books then that is a problem. One which goes away when the rating is 16+ or the parental controls are set higher.

The only real tip I have to offer here is keep an eye on what’s going on with the ASA and recently announced Digital Consumer Rights Bill. Both of which will have an impact on how and if your brand / product has potential negative repercussions.

Again, I do firmly believe it’s the parent’s responsibility to police and am not very keen on ill-conceived legislation, however, more than guns, porn, drugs or manga (as the case may be)  or any of the other things which give you an adult rating, the idea of coming home to find them ‘McPlay’ing on the iPad without my permission, keeps me awake at night.

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