Sunday, June 15, 2014

Just an 'Au revoir'....

Hello my dear readers, are you still there?

You might have been wondering - or not actually -  why I had not posted in such a long time. Well, there is a very simple explanation.

Do you remember when sometime ago I said that I probably should put my money where my mouth is in terms of communications and the European Union? That is exactly what I am doing, at least trying to.

A couple of months ago I have started working as communication adviser to the Italian Permanent Representation to the EU, and I will be there - hopefully - until the end of its presidency of the Council in December.

There, I said it. I can already see those sardonic smiles, I can hear those 'now it's your turn to be grilled a bit' and I can feel those pats on my shoulder. All fine by me.

But, I am only taking a break, while 'on duty', so this it is just an 'Au revoir'....  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

HURRAY! An EU video at the cinema....BUT....

Last week, suddenly, among the ads that preceded the movie I was about to watch at the cinema, this one popped up:

I know that now you can see immediately that it is about Europe's Common Agricultural Policy (it's written on the top! Look carefully!) but when I watched it at the cinema - did you hear me? AT THE CINEMA - I did not know that until the final shot.

Maybe it's news to you, but I have been talking about the need to improve the distribution of the good videos the EU produces since time immemorial - and will continue to do so until the cows come home (no pun intended with cow screenshot above).

Hence you can only imagine my utter surprise and delight when I saw one such videos on a cinema screen  - actually that is not quite true: I am telling you, so you don't need to imagine anything at all, plus I have capitalised the 'in the cinema' bit above, dah.

Now, given that:

A) I do not know whether the video is being screened in all cinemas in Brussels, or across Belgium, never mind across Europe.

B) I ignore how much the European Commission spent to get the video shown in that one
cinema, if they indeeed spent money at all because of some sort of agreement with the cinema.

C) I won't speculate on whether this is part of the European elections campaign budget - hence a one-off that will not be repeated until the next EP elections.

Given all the above, I was incredibly happy to see an EU video at the cinema (if we exclude of course the ones promoting European film-making). Very happy indeed. And, as videos go, stylistically, this is not bad. I have seen better videos coming out of the institutions but still, I like the choice of pictures, the split screen - always a winner - nice soothing shots and music.

BUT..... THE CAP????

Seriously....the CAP? The most unpopular, least understood of all EU policies, perceived by the majority of Europeans as old fashioned and a waste of money? Really, we want to promote the CAP? How is this going to help reduce anti-European sentiments and make people understand all the useful things the EU does? No matter how many lovely pictures of beautiful countryside you decide to use, the CAP will always - at least until a serious, but I mean serious, reform is fully in place - be used as one of the reasons for having 'less' EU not 'more'.

The cynic in me thinks that as the amount of money going to agriculture is so huge, probably it was the only part of the Commission able to afford the cinema screening. Naaah.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

I am a Ukrainian. The contradictions of marketing a real guerrilla.

There is something perversely contradictory about feeling manipulated for a good cause. 

Did I watch this video when so many posted it? Yes I did. Did I share it? Of course I did. The situation in Ukraine is just horrible and unacceptable. But is this the only reason I shared it? Perhaps not. I was, just like thousands of others, taken by the video for all the same reasons videos go viral. What do I mean?

Try, if you are able - and I know it's not easy - to put aside what is actually and tragically happening in Ukraine. Now look at the video again. You will see a very pretty girl, real sounds of 'battle', with a low drone music. You will see shots of violent clashes and you will hear her talking - with a broken voice - about wanting to be free. All the ingredients are there. 'Guerrilla marketing'. Literally.

And now bring back in what is going on in Kiev. I challenge anyone, after having read and seen the news in the last couple of days and weeks and having seen this video on any social network, to then decide not to share it.

But I am wondering: notwithstanding the fact that what is going on in Ukraine is far, far more important than any attempts at using known techniques to get our attention, why do I have a deep sense of unease at the thought that had it been a normal looking, 50 year-old, unemployed man telling me those same things, I might not have shared it? Isn't it a good thing to use all available means to get people interested in what is happening on the EU's doorstep? On the other hand, am I really so sure that the video of the 50 year-old Ukrainian would not have gone as viral?

Difficult questions, that will require a lot more thought before getting a decent answer. And hopefully, by then, the pretty young girl - and the 50 year-old unemployed man - will have returned home as Timoshenko has been released and a new government and early elections appear on the horizon.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Getting the voter to the polls. The mystery face game "Guess Who?"

Do you remember when I said - only a week ago actually - that the person in the European Parliament, in charge of relations with the citizens had said that we needed to wait anxiously for the next video produced for the upcoming European elections?

Well, it turns out the wait is over. Here is one of the outstanding visual productions that will push the disgruntled potential voter to the polling booth in a jiffy.

You did not want to bother voting? I am sure you want to now! Your vote counts. Your opinion counts. And, if you click on the mystery face game 'Guess Who?' screenshot above, you can hear all sorts of insightful opinions from people that supposedly are just like you, but actually they are not, in a language that is not yours - but the subtitles are!- on issues you may know little about but should definitely have a view on. One in favour, one against.  A bit like the video on the nuclear energy debate. The difference is that the latter is visually beautiful and made me think, whereas this one made me want to cry. I guess it's all about sparking emotions.  

Deep down, I am still hoping this video was not the one Mr Clark was referring to - as it came out 3 weeks ago and was produced for the Commission's audiovisual department and not the Parliament. Because, as someone said, "we must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope". That, in a nutshell, is me and European communications. Thank you, MLK.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Creative clashes: crowdsourcing or writing by Committee?

I attended a debate last week, organised by IABC Belgium called 'Communicating the EP Elections: the SeXy factor' (The capital X is theirs, not mine). The panel consisted of a moderator and 4 people: one was Stephen Clark, the Director for relations with citizens at the European Parliament (again, his definition, not mine) who has been responsible for the video which launched the EP elections campaign last September: the one with the slogan 'Act, React, Impact'. The other three panellists were from the communications agency 'Old-Continent' which has produced an alternative video on the elections, called 'We are not sexy and we know it'.

I have written about both videos when they came out (here and here) so no need to dwell on them again. But I am writing about it now because, some months on, on the eve of the real campaigning phase of the elections, the official video has had more than 8 million views and drawn a wide variety of comments. Mr Clark was there to talk about it and defend it in front of a critical audience of communicators. And he was sitting next to the producers of a video that, with little money and no time, was created precisely as a... how shall I say it, better alternative to the official one. Maybe it's just my love for controversy but I was hoping for some strong truths about EU communications. And I was very curious to hear what the minds behind the two videos had to say about...each other!

To be fair, Mr Clark did say he wished he could have produced a more fun video; "I would have never been allowed to use the word 'sexy', never mind the word 'shitty'" - he said, pointing out all the constraints of working for a huge multinational institution (from bureaucratic procedures to endless rounds of comments and approvals). I can totally understand how nightmarish it must be to make everyone happy. But my understanding ends here.

It ends because he continued to defend the video as a great new product while at the same time saying  we should wait for the next ones as they will be even better, shorter and snappier; because he mentioned as a major achievement the fact that Greek national television is broadcasting it often - could it be that it has no money to fill the airtime? - and that the comments outside the Brussels bubble were much more sympathetic - especially in the South - than the ones here in town. Really? My impression, admittedly gathered in an unscientific way, was that outside Brussels very few people understood what that video was about, while those who did found it depressing and vague. But then again, I might have spoken to different people.

Talking of different... what really surprised me was Mr Clark's enthusiasm for the main slogan of the campaign, 'This time it's different' - which, by the way, I thought had been replaced by the Act, React, Impact alliteration, but I stand to be corrected. It's a very personal thing but I find the sentence really bad. This time it's different? Is it because we are in a crisis? Is it because we are going to have a EP full of populists? Yes, it's different: it might be the last election, if we are not careful! Ok, probably not, but you get my drift. Plus, the slogan implies an involuntary admission of irrelevance, as if previous elections have been totally unimportant; as if it was understandable that before - before what actually? - nobody bothered to vote, but this's different. Sorry, but it just does not work for me. A simple Google search of the sentence would be enough to see how effective it has been so far...

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the debate a lot. Actually, it was more like a Q & A session with Mr Clark than a proper debate, as the Old-Continent group talked much less, but was also asked fewer questions. Still, I had a great time: it's always fun to hear experts talking about two of my favourite subjects - the EU and communications - and to get an insiders' view on all the shenanigans surrounding the production of communications material for the institutions.

Plus, there was one piece of good news: the Old-Continent team announced that it's going to produce a new video, and is looking for inspiration and ideas from all of us for the first collaborative election campaign ad ever created. Hurray, but no American accent this time please!

Waiting with anticipation to see how this new video will compare with the new official ones.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A ridiculous Bill Gates: viral or just counter-productive?

If you are a Twitter user I am pretty sure you will have seen at least one of the many Bill Gates-sponsored tweets on his third annual letter '' - I have seen the digital version but there is a printed one too.  Anyway, I have seen one of such tweets at least 3 times in one day (and I did not spend that whole day on Twitter).

Why am I writing about this? Because it's a marvellous example of a number of things:

1) I don't even want to know how much money it cost to have a Tweet so widely and frequently distributed for a whole day, and surely money is not really an issue for Bill Gates. But it's a fact that I saw it, opened it and read it which I might not have done had it not appeared on Twitter. So, how shall I put it in a very original way? Money talks and....pays.

2) The letter - the digital one at least - is very well done. You can disagree with the content (Gates and his wife Melinda are trying to take apart three myths they claim block progress for the poor) but the way in which the arguments are presented is incredibly clear and attractive. There are beautiful graphics, video interviews and great photos - I particularly like the ones comparing big cities decades ago with how they look today. It's super easy to share it, in part or as a whole, to move from one section to another and you can read it in six different languages. True, it's quite a long letter, partly because it  has all these other elements that make it longer, but partly because it does take some time to debunk myths. So, it looks good and it reads well. Quality.... pays.

3) Towards the end of each 'torn apart' myth, there is an ingenious idea. You are asked to vote on whether you agree or disagree with the arguments you have just read/heard/seen. In sum, interactivity and feedback all in one. A smart way of checking whether the messages work and to allow the Foundation to listen and adapt. Understanding ....pays.

3) On top of spamming everyone on Twitter, Bill Gates has gone on TV to promote the letter. Nothing bizarre about that. I saw him on NBC's 'Late Night with Jimmy Fallon' and I do admire the fact that he is giving to charity so much of what he earns. He came across as a nice and clever man, a good talker and surely a true believer in the power of aid. But towards the end of the interview, there was a bit that left me perplexed, to say the least. Here is it:

Now, I can see how it went: since his comms people are avid readers of my blog, they realised the importance and power of visual communications, hence they decided to make a video that could go viral. Seriously, I know that it's meant to be a joke, that the idea that such a powerful man could make fun of himself can be seen as a good one but, at least in my case, watching that video, at the end of a good interview to promote a 'great message' was a bit of an anti-climax.

And the curious thing is that, if I were to judge the effectiveness of it, I would really struggle Why? Because in the end, having said what I just did, I still watched it, started writing about it and shared it; hence I contributed to its viral potential. I was about to write bad, ridiculous videos DO NOT pay, but is that true? Help me out here.