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Archive for November, 2007

New Sprite ad may be in for some blowback.

A new commercial from Saatchi & Saatchi Denmark for Sprite Zero is currently doing the rounds on the web, and getting a mixed reaction. Adrant calls it “good in the way that frat boy pranks are good,” while a friend of mine who saw it said “that’s horrible and makes me hate the advertising industry even more than I already did.”

The ad opens on a couple sleeping in a parked car in an alpine resort, awoken by their ski bum friends who have decided to fire a giant snow cannon into the vehicle through the trunk. Apparently it “hasn’t aired yet”, which is often code in the advertising industry for “we made this for YouTube because we couldn’t get away with this on real TV.”

It’s all shot hand-held, so it feels just like a real YouTube video, or Cloverfield, and it’s pretty funny, until the snow cannon blows the car containing the screaming couple over the edge of what looks like a huge cliff at the end, in what looks like a tragic car accident snuff movie being used to sell fizzy drinks.

42,642 people in the U.S. alone died in car accidents in 2006, some 245,000 people since 9/11. Politicians don’t want to talk about how dangerous our roads (and especially our SUVs) are, but it’s ok for advertisers to use car accidents to sell soda? I think we’ll be hearing some noise around this.

The thing that bothers me is why viral videos, which I’m a huge fan of, are increasingly going as low-brow as they possibly can. This was a funny video until the car accident bit. I got it, Sprite Zero is really cold and will wake you up and refresh you and those guys at Sprite are hilarious and really “extreme” and stuff. The mission was well and truly accomplished. The video would have been just as effective without the tragic ending, the only difference is now I suspect a lot of people won’t be buying Sprite Zero and in a few days time Bill O’Reilly will get involved and they’ll be a huge apology from Coca-Cola or something. But maybe that was the idea all along.

I don’t know how much worse things can get, unless it turns out 2girls1cup was a viral marketing video for this book.

BIF: Big Ideas in Little Bytes

Matt Mason The Pirates Dilemma

A new interview I did at BIF has just gone up on their site, as part of the Big Ideas in Little Bytes series, which also features some cool ideas from Mark Cuban, Walt Mossberg and Jason Fried among others. My big idea was that innovation can be a dirty word, but I also talked about collaboration and how the remix re-presented songs as source code. You can check it out here.

Ji Lee attacks New York


My good friend Ji Lee, who designed the Pirate’s Dilemma logo and created the bubble project, is up to something big in New York City. For the last few days pink slime has been oozing down this CK billboard. The project is the work of the Droga5 agency where Ji is an Art Director. Watch that space for more as it happens…

Ji Lee

My speech at Business of Software 2007

I was lucky enough to speak at the Business of Software conference in San Jose last month, it was a really interesting day. The speech is now up on Google video, I’m kind of far away from the camera but it’s really me, I swear.

The underreported news industry needs you


Just over a year ago my wife Emily and I founded a non-profit media company; Wedia. The idea is to connect media volunteers with non-profits, in order to generate media for humanitarian crises around the world. So far we’ve made a difference to people in Niger, Mali, Pakistan, Congo and Guatemala, and have managed to get humanitarian crises stories from these countries covered on Fox, CNN, CNN International, The BBC, Reuters, AP and through many other media outlets worldwide, helping raise awareness and donations for the non profits we’ve been working with.

It works like this: we identify a worthy cause, find a volunteer and arrange and pay for all the travel expenses to get them where the story is. The non-profit provides support on the ground such as food, shelter and security, and the footage is shared by the non-profit, the volunteer and Wedia. The NPO has footage for fund raising, the volunteer has a great story and we have video coverage and b-roll footage we can offer to the American news networks, which are becoming more and more reluctant to cover international stories the way they once did.

Wedia’s first year has been pretty great, but something has been bugging us the whole time we’ve been acting as this middleman between non-profits and media volunteers: Why does there need to be a middleman at all? We now know there are non-profits and camera-people all over the world who want to work together, but we don’t have time to connect all of them. So why not let them connect themselves?

A few months ago we partnered with software development team 6around to do exactly that, and are in the process of developing a site that will allow media people and NPOs to find each other and work together independently of us. While the site is being developed, we’ve started out with a simple Digg-like interface for people to use to get underreported stories more exposure. It’s a small step in the right direction, but it made more sense than an under construction page. I didn’t want to write much about Wedia here until we had some more to talk about, but something happened to me that compelled me to act: Over thanksgiving at my in-laws, I tried to get some news from a television. It was like getting blood out of a stone.

I woke up to the news, via my Blackberry, that Kasparov had been arrested in Russia and Howard had been toppled in Australia. Not exactly a slow news day. But reception was bad (my in-laws live in the woods out in Connecticut) so I switched on the TV to get the news, something I haven’t done for a long time. Being involved with Wedia, I know the numbers on this, but that didn’t prepare me for this morning.

I flipped between CNN, Fox and MSNBC for an hour. Nothing but fires in Malibu. Undoubtedly newsworthy as they were, the fires didn’t warrant an hour of uninterrupted attention on national news (except for the interruptions every five minutes for prescription drug and SUV adverts obviously). But that was it. Not a single mention of Russia or Australia. Two minutes on the day in Iraq, a minute on the Natalie Holloway case, and less than that on Pakistan. Other than that, it was the same one shot of a burning house in Malibu. Through our work with Wedia I’m all too aware of how reluctant the media is to cover humanitarian crises overseas, but now it seems they’re becoming just as reluctant to cover international stories, period. If we don’t have a working, independent media, and informed citizens, we can’t have a workable democracy. It’s as simple as that.

Which is why something new is forming, something I was discussing Global Voices founder Ethan Zuckerman last week, which he calls the “underreported news industry”. Ethan, like Wedia, is in the business of getting unheard stories out there, and there are many others (such as Witness, and their incredible new project The Hub) working toward this goal of replacing our broken mainstream media. Like I said, I didn’t want to talk too much about Wedia until the new site was up and running, but I now think is urgent. If you think there is something wrong with the way the media works, grab a story you’re passionate about and post a link to Wedia. Join up. Find out more. Vote up the stories you think are important. Contact us. Donate. Get involved with The Hub. Contribute to Global Voices. Whatever. Just help us do something good if you can. The underreported news industry needs you.

Is there an environmental case for piracy?

Plastic Pirates

Image from The LA Times Altered Oceans series

Last weekend I was invited to judge the Innovation Challenge Final Round, a competition held at the University of Virginia’s Darden Business School to identify the “Most Innovative MBA Team” in the world, alongside other judges from the upper echelons of companies like American Express, Hilton, Harley Davidson, Philips Whirlpool and Shell to name a few. Sixty three teams from fifty seven countries took part. I thought judging it would be pretty easy – I’ve been on the other side of the table in VC and pitch situations many times before, but after the first day I found myself shell shocked.

The scope and complexity of the problems the teams had to solve, and we had to judge, were staggering. After spending the last two years thinking and writing about individuals innovating in some way that then affects everyone else in the world from the bottom up, it was challenging for me to look at it from the point of view of a middle manager, in a large multinational, trying to implement a new strategy across a company that straddles different countries, cultures and time zones. It was an incredible weekend, and I would recommend the challenge to any company looking for some new perspectives on what it is they do.

On Day Two of the challenge, the teams were presented with a problem related to sustainability and environmental concerns, and how corporations should be talking to consumers about what it is they are doing. This got me thinking a lot about sustainability in relation to my work, and I hit upon something that’s been bothering me ever since: If you can download something electronically, it doesn’t seem responsible to consume a physical version, given the environmental impact created by many of our disposable physical goods. And if corporations are not giving us the option to download electronic versions of their products, even if it’s possible to do so, is there an ethical case for downloading them anyway to force them to change?

It’s a weak argument in most cases. And if there are legitimate alternatives to physical products such as paid-for mp3 files or e-books (which are about to change everything, or not, but that’s for another time), it isn’t an argument at all. But in some cases it seems to make sense. Forcing mandatory consumption of clunky plastic boxes and bags, which will most likely end up in the giant plastic island in the Pacific, or cost us money as tax payers to recycle, seems a bit like an indirect tax. Someone has to pay for that, and it’s not the producer of the plastic box, they’re getting something for nothing and forcing someone else to bear the cost involuntarily, or to put it another way, stealing. So is piracy an appropriate response?

Piracy enables people to consume things without taking any of the costs into account. We should have the right to buy goods in physical form, of course, but all the costs need to be taken into account too, or isn’t it also piracy at some level?

Britney Spears in pink pirate Louis Vuitton flying Hummer shocker!

Britney Pirate

Saw this great story on Counterfeit Chic: AP are reporting that Britney Spears’ record label Zomba (part of Sony BMG in Europe) has been fined 80,000 Euros (around $120,000) because of Britney’s 2005 video “Do Something,” which features Spears and her posse driving a (flying, no less) pink Hummer, which is covered in (gasp!) fake Louis Vuitton Murakami cherry blossom upholstery. Which you see for approximately less than half a second.

MTV Online was also fined for displaying the clip on its website. The court also ordered the video removed from circulation, internet included, with additional fines of 1,000 euros per day until the companies do so. Youtube still has the offending video up for the time being, see what all the fuss is about below. As if the poor girl hadn’t had a rough enough year already.

“A Nation of Infringers”


John Tehranian, a law professor at the University of Utah, who by all accounts seems to be your average law-abiding citizen, calculates in a paper (PDF) that on a average day, he rings up $12.45 million in liability. As he puts it, America is now “technically speaking, a nation of infringers.” Arstechnica writes:

“Tehranian’s paper points out just how pervasive copyright has become in our lives. Simply checking one’s e-mail and including the full text in response could be a violation of copyright. So could a tattoo on Tehranian’s shoulder of Captain Caveman—and potential damages escalate when Tehranian takes off his shirt at the university pool and engages in public performance of an unauthorized copyrighted work.

“Singing “Happy Birthday” at a restaurant (unauthorized public performance) and capturing the event on a video camera (unauthorized reproduction) could increase his liability, and that’s to say nothing of the copyrighted artwork hanging on the wall behind the dinner table (also captured without authorization by the camera). Tehranian calculates his yearly liability at $4.5 billion.”

The videos are looking sick

Pill Pirates

The viral video series we’re producing for the launch of the book is looking amazing. The shooting is all but done, now it’s into the editing suite for a few weeks. I’m really excited about the films, I don’t want to give too much away at this point, but I think they could take on a life of their own. See the production shots here.

Pali Research analyst: “Music should be free.”

seeking alpha

via Seeking Alpha

Warner Music’s share price has taken a beating after Pali Research analyst Richard Greenfield cut his rating on the stock from sell to neutral. His reasons?

“No matter how many people the RIAA sues, no matter how many times music executives point to the growth of digital music, we believe an increasing majority of worldwide consumers simply view recorded music as free,” he asserted in a research report Thursday morning. “A new model for music consumption must emerge and that model most likely involves DRM-free downloadable music at no cost to consumers, fully supported by advertising.” But as Greenfield notes, “the music industry is not ready to endorse such a move at this point, and even if it was, the economic model transition will be incredibly painful.”

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