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Spreading the word

Evan Davis | 09:49 UK time, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

I've always been scared of advertising folk.

I've met them at parties and I've been to their offices and I've always found them intimidatingly cool. At one company I visited, they held their meetings in a caravan that had somehow been installed in the place, a rather more exotic place to gather than the typical BBC glass box.

Mic Live signAnyway, that was a group of old-school advertisers, set in the relatively stuffy ways of traditional media. If they were scary, how daunting was it to meet the guys from Rubber Republic, specialists in viral campaigns, which are surely the coolest ads of the lot. (They even have an attention-grabbing vocabulary, describing themselves as a "viral seeding shop" rather than as an advertising agency.)

Matt from Rubber Republic had entered the life of Today as a guest on the programme, who offered to make a video for Today.

Now viral campaigns are special. They are usually funny. But most importantly, in pursuit of their art they are uniquely uncompromising.

You see for most of us sad folk who work in semi-creative jobs, there is a tension between artistic purity and commercial good sense. Every architect for example (except perhaps for Norman Foster) has to concede a little in aesthetics to improve the functionality of their design. The same applies to landscape architects (I know because I live with one) where there's a permanent tension between the number of trees a typical scheme can accommodate and the number of car-parking spaces.

Even the Today programme involves a balance between the worthy-but-heavy items with the worthless-but-entertainingly-light ones.

Such compromise is important in the ordinary profession of advertising. Even though they may occasionally overlook it, most advertisers are really employed to sell things. Which often means, for example, cluttering their magnificent artistry with a prominently
displayed name or message.

But the viral advertisers are different.

They have to make their ads so appealing - so devoid of the hard-sell - that the users seek them out, and so they spread themselves. The wit involved in a video (which often involves a good deal of self-deprecation) has to be elevated above all else. Companies will evidently pay for these campaigns simply hoping for a small piece of their innate coolness to rub off on their brands.

Well, so it is with the Today programme video. Except, we didn't have to pay.

I won't tell you much about the ad (part of our seeding strategy is to build anticipation). But I will say three things about it.

Firstly, we were all amused at the office when we read the script. But then we are us, we are not the intended audience. So that is no guide at all. I'll be interested to read the reviews on YouTube.

Secondly, the video was produced remarkably quickly. I had thought it would take several weeks to conjure something up, but Rubber Republic were in the office with a film crew in tow, within days of any mention of a video being uttered.

Finally, I think a lot of us were mildly surprised at how high the production values were. I thought viral ads were innately amateur. But no, the kind of rough look you see in the video is painstakingly constructed by top industry professionals.

Which of course befits the Today programme itself. We would hardly have wanted our video to be filmed on a mobile phone.


  • Comment number 1.

    Clearly a film career beckons. I did like the Adam Ant picture on your mirror as a make-up guide ;-)

  • Comment number 2.

    Very funny - really enjoyed it - but I'm already a regular addict. Many of the comments on YouTube are already missing the point. The acid test is will it encourage new listeners to switch on! That's the point of viral advertising, ultimately to change perception, and then change behaviour.

  • Comment number 3.

    I thought it was very funny and will definitely be passing it on. Good to know my mental image of the Today Studio is spot on ;-) Did you get your propellors??

  • Comment number 4.

    I think that you sell yourself short Evan. You are a first class broadcaster and extremely talented programme maker. Your recent series on the financial crisis was award winningly good.

    I have worked as a suit in what has often been described as London's top creative ad agency. And it was the most soul destroying years of my professional life.

    It is advertising which is the world of the semi- creative. If the people that inhabit that world were any good at all they would be artists, writers or musicians or journalists or broadcasters.

    Instead their inconsequential talents are turbo charged by squillions of both private and public sector cash. And their egos know no bound on the back of it. Under-talented and over paid. A toxic combination.

    If truth be known they are also incredibly intimidated by genuinely talented people such as your good self.

    The brand values of the Today programme are intellectual weight, incisive thinking and personal integrity.

    Yes the Today viral made me laugh for its uneasy mixture of the self reverential and the genuinely funny. The John Humphreys gag was a good one.

    But it won't deliver a single new listener and to my mind anyway the brand values have been ever so slightly tarnished. The Cadbury's Gorilla it aint.

  • Comment number 5.

    It kind of says it all that even with the plug on this morning's show, no one is moved to blog on this particular viral.

    On reflection, perhaps there could have been a 'look away now' warning before we saw all that Naughtie flesh. You can't unsee something once you've seen it! Best to lose 20 pounds at your age Jim, especially in such a stressful occupation.

    In a way serious times call for serious commentary and a bit of gravitas never goes astray. I haven't been able to take Krishnan GM at Channel 4 seriously since he revealed on a game show that he checks his rooms for bogie men before turning in of an evening.

    But perhaps I am being a bit of a Victor Meldrew here because I didn't get the newspaper digest when I am accustomed to hear it of a morning - I had to be out the door by 8am so no good to me at twenty past. We Today fans are creatures of habit!

    Sorry to be such a pain in the ass. You can always have a listen to Lincoln City at anyoldfun and you can tell me about my creative by-pass and what a crap song writer I am. ANd then there is always that dodgy stand up................

  • Comment number 6.

    Hello from the Archers web page where the viral has landed and I for one think I have a bit of a rash coming on.

  • Comment number 7.

    Is it a successful viral ad, Evan, or did it get announced 42 billion times on the Today prog?

    Has it led to more listeners?

  • Comment number 8.

    I am sorry but this video is not a 'viral'.

    1. Look at what unites all viral videos - they can be enjoyed no matter what language you speak or culture you a from. For example, the gorilla dumming - man dacning around the world - Rick Astley - none of these are dependant on the viewer being able to speak english, or have prior knowledge of any given subject. So unless you speak English and already have an awareness of the Today show this video will mean nothing. Even if you have both of those checked, to be fair it is still only mildly amusing, barely enough to get me to foward it on let alone make others want to seek it out 'cold'.

    2. If the point was to encourage new listeners I am not sure how the video will achive it as many of the 'gags' were 'in' jokes that meant you had to already know a little about the personaliyies involved, thus potential making possible new listeners feel excluded.

    If you were seeking to tell the world that the Today show is a more like a private clique with some interesting personalities and a passing attempt to report 'current affairs' then maybe you will succeed but otherwise I feel you missed the mark.

  • Comment number 9.

    I couldn't agree more with morwennahancock (no 8). I just didn't want to be so blunt. It isn't a viral. In fact I'm not at all sure what it is. Sorry.

    Ending the week on a positive note, however, I didn't want to watch Red Nose climbs the highest peak in Africa, or Red Nose does The Apprentice. But couldn't pull myself away. Hats off to Chris Moyles and Gary Barlow who came across as being genuinely nice blokes. The BBC at its best (as is the Today programme sans 'virals').

    Have a good week-end!

  • Comment number 10.

    Evan, I caught part of your The Bottom Line on the BBC News Channel and noted with amusement one of your guest - having just visited the "eyebrow raising" piece on viral adverts. Fascinating programme mind from all three guests.

    I feel oddly divorced from these adverts whilst enjoying them tremendously. For the musical content perhaps for which I am a saddo sucker I suppose. Some of the more adult ones greatly amuse but for the aforesaid reason - adult content - get a very limited audience.

    I tend not to be too influenced by adverts though. I see something and remember how it is sold to the public and me of course. Mostly detachment is felt.

    It took many weeks for me to try a new brand of potato crisp because every time I looked at them I decided - ah that advert - no!

    I think I am a tough audience, me.

    Or have a need to lose more weight.

  • Comment number 11.

    I am with the group saying it wasn't a viral ad...and the bloke interviewed sounded suitably a) it wasn't and b) it didn't fly even with mentions on the programme all the time.

    But I agree you're having a good run on programmes at present...I stumbled across a thing with Sir Martin Sorrell, and the Eurostar and Vodafone execs on BBC4 which was a superior webcam edit (it was a full production values shoot) and it was good stuff..

    A) having the 'radio programme business' going on for real DID work very welL even in terms of the Tv rounded the context out very well I thought.

    B) I thought you did very well to stick at the questions when divided only by a circular table (once or twice I though Sir Martin was gripping it so tightly he was going to bash you on the head with it....

    It's one thing to ask the tougher questions to a plasma screen link in some other place...or across the usual TV studio set...but keeping your nerve when staring inches from Sir Martin's glaring visage.. that's different!!

    I have to hand it to him as well ..he is almost convincing about the whole internet ad process being unalloyed good for WPP-----

  • Comment number 12.

    Though not an area of expertise, it's one that interests me, especially for apps on sites I run.

    I love the way those at the BBC somehow so often disconnect themselves from being the only national broadcast entity there is which, oh, I dunno, may influence who wants to 'help' them (U2, Brute?), and how good, old-fashioned promotion on the MSM is still a heck of a way of boosting up one of a trillion bits of work in the e-ther to getting noticed at all, much less judged and/or repsonded to.

    Nice that Aunty (we) didn't have to pay. Shame we didn't get a cut of the massive promo value to the creators, mind.

    Any stats on how many folk actually stayed with it all the way though to snag the 55k+ views?

    Speaking of hooks, I am sure there was some nice, funny stuff later on, but really, life was too short. Ok, I fib. Was it a Labour of love? Or... something more conservative? I fear I err on the latter.

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