Thursday, 17 April 2008

Must take stance on China

I spent over a third of my life in a country that wasn't free. Although I was a child I can clearly remember some aspects of political ill-liberty. I also remember how much it mattered to us that people on the outside cared - if someone jumped the fence they were welcomed as political refugees and there were people in free countries openly calling out the totalitarian acts of the state.

I therefore feel an obligation to say publicly I believe it is not OK to pretend things are OK in China. I desire to learn about China. With the little I know I long to learn more about the country, culture, cuisine. I know there are massive differences in cultural attitudes to both individual and collective rights and some practices that would be unacceptable in a Western liberal democracy are the norm fully accepted by the people.

But I don't care who wins the Olympics and I don't care if parallels with Berlin 1936 are realistic or not. Whether the Olympics are big, lavish , flawless doesn't matter - they still take place in a totalitarian state, which suppresses many individual freedoms and executes people without due process on a massive scale. Any leader of a liberal democracy who appears at the Beijing games, and perhaps even every sportswoman or sportsman who takes part dignify the Chinese communist regime.

P.S. The photo is from an award-winning campaign for Slovak Amnesty International by MUW Saatchi & Saatchi.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

PR agency posting fake comments? Don't get caught!

Just read an embarrassing Czech story: a blogger uncovered four non-existent girls posing as 'members of the public' blogging from the IP address of a PR agency to promote a bank's new product. Of course, it does not take an Edelman screw up to know this takes place all over the place - although only a portion of the cases are ever uncovered. In this case, like often, this was a 'private activity' of an intern and the PR agency (Bison & Rose) had no idea.

Fake reviews of all sorts are rampant in the travel business and really, logically anywhere stuff gets reviewed (semi-)anonymously online. My pet peeve is the website of the UK Guardian newspaper on travel called Beenthere. I follow the reviews on Bratislava ever since someone posted a genuine review of one of our websites (here). Soon our competitors went crazy posting their own reviews of their own sites.

Now you ask how I know they are fake? And why should you trust me ours is real? Easy, Sherlock, real easy. Our reviewer MikeP has actually posted other reviews, some are lengthy and they cover a number of destinations and his profile contains a photo. The other reviews are usually one off affairs or the 'reviewers' have posted a few short spammy 'tips' on the same day.

The lesson here? If you wish to give yourself favourable publicity in the social media either make the effort to be a real user or at least work shrewdly to cover your tracks. Here are a few important tips to help PR agencies avoid embarrassment:

1. Keep a few active social media profiles around - some social media sites (e.g. Digg) discount inactive users algorithmically, elsewhere it is the community that shuts up the abusive new users. The best way to make your posts credible and make them stick is to have profiles that are or look real - regular posting, consistent behaviour.

2. If you must pick names or photos, be careful (not like the Czech blogger who used on of the top Google image results for 'girl', showing the Debian girl posted here, which was easy to track down - the girl in the photo is a Cambridge PhD. student quoted as being "pretty upset"). If you are going to do this on a grand scale, plan ahead with changing your IP addresses or at least not using ones easily traceable to your company (lots of fake Wikipedia entries get uncovered through IPs traced to the company doing the embellishing).

3. Watch your language - real people don't talk like PR pros, so if the review contains PRish funny speak it is probably written by someone who speaks it.

4. If you ask who cares probably no one real does - in the Czech bloggers' case these young women were raving about a new banking product, but I mean who (other than a few geeks) would care about this stuff?

5. Along the same lines if it sounds too good to be true it probably is - again real people don't go around raving about boring stuff.

Your competitors are clever and will dig deep to undo your efforts, so you might as well not bother if you are not going to do this right.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Don't Elfyourself, buy a stapler instead

I was a bit surprised to see that you can no longer Elf Yourself and your friends at This campaign generated quite of bit of buzz in general over the Christmas holidays and some criticism in internet marketing circles since many marketers couldn't see how the massively popular campaign was benefiting the office supplies chain who made it (I will not name them or link to them here just so you can guess who they are because research shows most people don't remember).

Elfyourself was hilarious (see this random video or search Youtube for elfyourself if you by any chance missed the elfs completely). Through a very innovative and usable flash interface it allowed you to enter face shots of your friend, fit them onto elf bodies, and send out links to the elfs singing and dancing.

I am not sure I like the current move: I went to Elfyourself with an objective and instead I was told Elves are gone and the office supplies store is still here. Of course, no 'elf scent' on the landing page and a disappointed potential future client who did not care for a stapler.

Now I wonder, are the elves gonna be back for the third year in a row next Christmas? Should they have left the application alive during the year? Should they have dealt differently with telling us the application is not on during the year? How would you play this?

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Ryanairisation of Skyeurope?

Skyeurope is my favorite airline. It is a Bratislava based low cost (although less Bratislava-based than it used to be as it shifted many of its flights to Vienna) and has done miracles for tourism in Bratislava and for economic development in Slovakia.

Once I visited Milan with my UWC classmate Bela. We flew Ryanair one way and I returned on Skyeurope so I was sort of able to compare these two airlines head to head. My conclusion was that I will never fly Ryanair again if I can avoid it.

I prefer paying a little extra for:
- not having to stare on an emergency evacuation chart printed on the back of the seat in front of me,
- being able to recline my seat back that very little bit,
- not having to spend hours in the cabin decked out in aggressive nasty yellow plastic,
- being treated with a little respect and not having to pay absurdly efficient charges for everything like having a check bag.

Skyeurope was better on all of the above counts, with comfy leather seats, friendly staff and a reasonable pricing structure.

I was therefore very disappointed to learn today that Skyeurope is introducing Ryanair-style charges for checked bags. You pay EUR 5 if you register the bag online, EUR 10 through the callcentre and EUR 15 at the airport. Of course this is essentially a price hike in a world where you can't really travel with a carry on since it is not allowed to take your shampoo, toothpaste, etc.

I know Skyeurope has had to work hard to turn a profit and a lot has changed but this seems to me like it's the spirit of Skyeurope changing. Perhaps I am old fashioned or spoiled but I hope there are more of us who mind and the move will not make sense economically in the longer run.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Happy to be an Orange customer today

I am happy my mobile phone is from Orange rather than T-Com today, having read this. Wow.

Get rickrolled while rickrolling is still in!

I was rickrolled today as part of an April Fool's Day blog post. If you have been rickrolled within the last 48 hours and know exactly what it means, please don't click through!

You shouldn't click on any Youtube featured videos today either, since you could well get rickrolled.

Also, if you have not rickrolled your friends and family, do so now because the word is out both in the New York Times and Wikipedia.