Saturday, 4 December 2010

Back from Africa


February 2011 update: I took about 3 months to finish this draft, a few more things have happened since.

I had an absolutely fantastic trip to Tanzania with The Great Football Giveaway in November 2010, you can follow the events during the trip here. By now I can safely say it has been a life changing experience for me. I gave up on the draft in December partly out of simply being lazy, partly busy at work, partly because it was such a rich experience I didn't know what to write about it exactly. Altogether the photo above illustrates pretty well how overwhelming it was - in a good way.

We were nine people on Neil's team (who has done an awesome job with kick-starting the whole project and leading the team) joined by our three amazing drivers: Sebastian, David and Josef. We got along like a house on fire for the ten days of the Football Giveaway: as much banter and piss-taking as well as more serious conversations and sharing personal stories. They are all people I now hold dear in my heart, with whom I shared this unique experience. You can find everyone's names on our JustGiving page, and you can also still make donations for more balls to be given to children on future trips.

I was lucky enough to have more holiday time, so while the others flew back home I spent two more weeks in Tanzania; a few days on a safari in the Selous and a week on the beach in Zanzibar.

A lot comes to mind in wanting to describe the whole experience, about Africa and Tanzania, the children, infrastructures in the country or lack thereof, charity vs. gifts, education, play, the development of tourism and who benefits from it, large charity organisations / NGOs, animal conservation and hunting, the amazing people I met there, smiles on so many children's faces, and probably a lot more I forget right now.

I can talk about any of these points at length but the best way I can sum it up for now, even though these simple words don't do justice to the experience, is that life is too short not to do things I really enjoy doing. I don't mean that I particularly deprived myself of that before, on the contrary if you now me you know I'm rather bon vivant. It's just that this is what's present when thinking of the trip.  I'm extremely privileged to have a lot of choice in the way I lead my life and I want to make sure I take advantage of that, both for myself and to make a difference for others.

More specifically about my trip, you can check out some photos on my Flickr and we are in the process of editing all the videos we have from the Football Giveaway. If you ever fancy a safari in Tanzania, I highly recommend going to Selous and staying at the Selous River Camp. Owned and managed by Kenny and Kate, I loved their blog and was right to go there; they made me feel very welcome and I had an awesome time at their camp discovering the Selous and generally relaxing relaxing by the river.

To finish off, you can get that a lot was bubbling away in my head in December, I'll write about that in my next post.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

London fundraising event

We held an excellent fundraising evening last week in London, on Wednesday 27th October. Everyone had a brilliant time and it was great for several of us going on the trip to Tanzania to meet up as well as meet with Paul and Sarah of The Great Football Giveaway.

We started the evening programme by showing the short and very inspiring Football Giveaway video, then Neil told us about how this project started for him, and Paul talked about how the overall initiative started about 5 years ago.

Hugh came up front after that to tell us about an interesting and fun project to design an application based on one's feelings of guilt and which would allow people to alleviate that guilt by quickly making small donations to different charities based on personal choices and feelings. To top it off in true Radio 1 fashion, Hugh shared his personal Top Ten guilts!

And last but not least, Neil from UsTwo was kind enough to join us and share a really interesting project they have been up with another charity, The Kids Company, who take care of children in inner city areas of the UK. The kids participated in creating designs for a MouthOff iPhone application released today, the proceeds of which will all go directly to the charity (minus the 30% Apple keeps for the transaction).

Thank you again to everyone who attended and donated, it was a brilliant evening. I only have two more days to go until flying to Tanzania, can't wait!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Giving away footballs in Tanzania


In the very exciting news category, I'm going away on a fabulous adventure to Tanzania in November this year with The Great Football Giveaway.

If you haven't heard about them before, I wrote about it a while ago, they are a small organisation whose belief is that "no kid should be denied the chance to kick a ball about. It's one of life's most simple pleasures." I don't particularly care that much for football in general, and certainly not for the giant cash industry it has become but I really care about making a difference, helping put a smile on a kid's face and playing games. That and also traveling, as I've never been to Africa.

The principle is very simple: £10 donated = 1 football going to kids in Africa in places they don't have any to play with. It might not change the world, but regardless. Playing with a brand new ball and kicking it about will change the experience of life for a kid, even if only a moment.

Do you remember how excited you were as a kid when playing and kicking a ball around? That or whatever else you enjoyed playing with. We're going to give lots of balls around to kids in Tanzania, as well as meet up with NGOs and charities out there working with kids and who could use a few brand new footballs.

Neil, through whom I also found out The Great Football Giveaway in the first place, wrote a post a couple of weeks ago announcing he was pulling a team together to raise funds. Sounded very exciting. After consideration and checking that such a trip was pretty unreasonable given I a few other things going on, I chucked out the reasons not to go ahead out of the way and committed.

Now we have a team of eight talented and smart people from the advertising and media industry joining up for this amazing adventure. We are starting to organise the whole thing and will be actively raising funds for the trip as well as making contacts both with potential sponsors for balls and organisations operating out in Tanzania we could meet up with.

The plan at this stage is to go from Dar Es Salaam (Departing from London on Thursday 4th Nevember) to the Southeast of Tanzania which apparently is off the tourist trail, has the most undeveloped and poorest parts of the country. We will choose a town as a base somewhere and spider out from there on 4x4s to go and give out footballs.

We have just set up a JustGiving Page so you go ahead and start donating:

Our target is to raise £13,500 for 1,350 footballs.

We are also looking at organising a fundraising event in London mid October; more news on that very soon. If you have any contacts for potential sponsors or NGOs / Charities / peopl in Tanzania, please keep in touch.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

My favourite brands continued - Skittles

I thought I'd pick up on a theme I wrote a few posts for when I started blogging, you probably guessed by now, about my favourite brands and why I like them.

So let's talk about Skittles.

To start with, and that's pretty obvious, I like the product. They're definitely amongst my all time favourite candy. I love the flavour and sorting them out by colour as I pull them out of the pack to choose which I feel like eating first (keeping reds for last, or until I have three to eat at once is a traditional strategy of mine). I love the sour Skittles as well. I had as a small kid in the States but while growing up in France, Skittles were few and far between. They were hard to find so it made more special than say, Haribo. Which by the way, I still don't understand why I can't find Tagada Strawberries in the UK - what's up with that Haribo?

They started out in the UK in 1974 and were subsequently released in the US in 1979, produced and marketed by Wrigley which also is a division of Mars Inc.

I also love pretty much everything they've been doing for marketing and advertising in the past few years. They've become well known for creating completely weird adverts in the past few years which seems to have really taken off in 2006 but I'm not exactly sure.

I found a few older ads; in the 80's Skittles was definitely traditional in the advertising:

The weirdness was creeping in beginning of the 90's with their 'Is that real?'

Then we have the string of silly, to full blown weird, to plain creepy ads, I love most of them:

And the famous 'Skittles touch'

The title of this ad brilliantly allows me to smoothly segue to the reasons why I love them so much. As you can see, this last ad was uploaded on Youtube titled: Worst Skittles Commercial Ever! I like to say the best kind of advertising is polarising, and these definitely are.

Brands can't be everything to everyone, particularly not FMCG brands that can hardly differentiate from their competitors. After all the competitors in the category are basically bits of sugar with flavouring so the brand itself and the way people remember it or not makes all the difference. If your brand or at least your communications are polarising, it gives something for people to talk about (or argue about).

I've read here and there blog posts from people comparing these ads to branded pieces of content such as Glass and Half Full Productions from Cadburys and wondering whether they were relevant, but I think there is a significant difference: where Cadbury's have created content with no relation whatsoever to chocolate, Skittles ads always feature the product. Moreover, the fact they feature the product in these weird settings forces people watching to think, even for the briefest of instants, whether they like the way the candy is being represented because it's not how candy is usually shown in ads. And that's brilliant.

They've also bravely been experimenting in the social media scene. They were slammed and criticised by many people a couple of years ago for their website that was basically a bunch links to live and real time social media sites (kind of a copy of the Modernista! agency site at the time, one of the reasons they were criticised in the industry). It turned into a mob lynching as people quickly realised anything tagged #Skittles was shown live on the website.

Skittles stuck with it. They didn't shut down their website. Everybody argued about whether it was brave or plain stupid. I liked it. There are a lot of other posts about it so I won't linger on that right now - the gist of my thinking is that many people were talking about a PR and social media / community failure when this was a website redesign and the way the brand represented itself to people rather than interacting with them. Essentially they gave the brand over to people to represent them for the time the site was live, and people responded in all their brutal beauty and ugliness combined.

Their Facebook Page is one of the most popular brand pages on the social network, over 8.5 million people subscribed and one of the only ones I appreciate the updates of, for the same reason I like the ads: they're complete nonsense and when I catch one on my news feed, it makes me smile.

The latest project / campaign they ran via Facebook a few months ago was genius: Mob the Rainbow. Raising cash for someone nobody thinks about, in its last iteration to fulfil someone's dream. As opposed to what we can often see on charity sites or generic brand campaigns, the dream here isn't grandiose, doesn't involve giant mansions or white sandy beaches. This guy's dream is to own a bowling alley and he needs a scolarship to help go through bowling management studies. Completely weird but also completely real and engaging for their community on Facebook.

As far as I know, Skittles also never changed their tagline: Taste the Rainbow. The rainbow has always been with them, they've only evolved the expression of the rainbow over time.

Loads of people create content online about Skittles and own the brand, whether it be people creating fake weird ads, flavoured vodka shots, or people arguing about the ads.

So there you go, I love Skittles. I might even buy some on my way home.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Put dot io

I hadn't heard about Put.io yet, so I thought you might not have either. Kai and Kalam told me about it last week and said it the fastest service they've come across. I've tested it this weekend and it's seriously fast. Incredibly fast. And probably a taste of what the future of computing might look like as well.

So what is it?

Imagine the unholy offspring of a cloud storage service like Dropbox, mixed with a media sharing community such as Vuze, and P2P file sharing in a variety of ways (BitTorrent, RapidShare, directly with friends, etc). Add in some radioactive electrically charged weird mix of chemicals to give the creature super-speed and there you have Put dot io.

Apparently they're based in Turkey and they have the fastest possible Internet connection in the country. Basically users register for an account, are given an amount of disk space on their servers and a monthly data streaming allocation, as an example the normal subscription I just got for $9.99 / month includes 50Gb of space and 50Gb of data streaming.

Once your account activated, you can either upload files to the server, or ask the server to download any files from anywhere. I tried it and it did about 1.5Gb worth of downloads in barely a minute. Something like the latest Yes Men documentary released on P2P would probably take less than a minute for the Put.io servers to download.

From there you can either watch it streamed from their servers or download it to your computer, share it directly with friends on the network. You can also use it as cloud based hard drive for any files and it's browser based so accessible from anywhere.

It reminded me again of the excellent Kevin Kelly TED talk about the next 5,000 days of the web, where he describes all our connected devices as different windows into one same entity, the web. As servers increase in speed and capacity, the need for hard drives on computing machines disappears, although it also raises interesting questions about perceived ownership and privacy.

With digital media having brought the costs of copying or even owning anything close to zero some considerations we used to have are no longer relevant, like background thoughts of being careful which photos I shoot with my camera because it's my only roll of film left. Now we have hundreds of photos from various occasions stored on our computers. I'm wondering if there is some feeling of comfort at knowing that even though those photos aren't tangibly present, they are all stored in a physical object, the hard drive in the computer.

Even if I don't understand exactly how it works I can touch and feel the object containing my photos, which may create an illusion of control or comfort. With everything going cloud based, we are going further away from physical, tangible things. We are already doing this with cards and money.

I'm not really sure what it means, but it's definitely interesting.

Try out Put dot io, definitely worth it!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Foursquare, location based services and all that jazz

Foursquare and location based services are all the rage in marketing town these days, and a few interesting articles were just released about it. Notably Forrester pleased me in advising marketers that only a tiny portion of people in the US (1% of online adults) were currently using LBS and who are mostly male, so most brands should probably experiment without committing too much resource.

I ran an interesting qualitative research group on Facebook recently with a group of 10 UK 18-24 young adults, heavy Internet users. Only one had an Foursquare account, had already stopped using it and the others either hadn't heard of it or thought it was stupid. I know it's not large numbers but their remarks were very interesting.

A response article on Adage says how important it is for brands to get on the bandwagon now because even though the user base is small, they are very influential.

I was in the middle of a pompous and boring write-up about my thoughts on the topic and decided to delete it all when I came across this fantastic image from Gamefan84 on BoingBoing:

Speechless now, eh?

Basically the gist of it was please stop answering vague marketing problems by shouting out the latest popular thing, as so:

Q: How can I sell more of my product to this age group?
A: Foursquare / Twitter / Facebook / Whatever's next

However many users they have and however cool their technology is (Don't get me wrong, I love all this stuff), none of these platforms, or even channels to a wider extent, are the answers. Just like a poster concept isn't the answer either. Everything is connected now, so answering the problem requires a wider view of the media landscape and coming up with a good idea before getting in the nitty-gritty of channels and platforms.

May the vengeful giant mutant squirrel riding Chewbacca come after your asses if you keep at it.

You know who you are.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Frantic


I had quite a lot of things going on lately but blogging has not been one of them so time to stop lazing around on that front. The two or three faithful readers I have left will certainly be interested in being kept up to date about my ever so exciting life.

I remember sitting with my little brother Morgan in his garden, basking in the Bolivian summer night late on New year's Eve 2009, talking about the past year. I felt a bit jealous: a year before that he'd just got back from a few months in New York and we spent Christmas with our family in Toulouse. Right after he moved in with his girlfriend in Paris, the following month they moved together to Bolivia and he started a completely new job as an assistant teacher there. A couple of months later she was pregnant; now they had a beautiful little baby girl. So much had changed for him in 2009.

My year seemed meaningless in comparison - regardless of the fact I had a good year: moved to central London to be in walking distance to work, went to SXSWi, went out a lot more, attended many social media / marketing / planning type events / drinks, made new friends, worked on some fairly big and challenging projects at work (Unfortunately the largest went bust), had just hiked the Inca Trail, and spent time on Lake Titicaca and in the Bolivian jungle.

So anyhoo, some change seems to be coming my way this year.

About a month ago my flatmate announced he was leaving to move in with his girlfriend, I decided to move too. The awesome flat by the river I wanted didn't work out so I'm moving in my brother's spare room for a little while. Fortunately, I'll still be in walking distance from work.

iris announced a major restructure to merge the main agency and the digital side amongst a few other changes to make the whole agency leaner, more digitally and strategically focused. Unfortunately, quite a few people will be made redundant and we are in the middle of the process which will last until mid-August. Following a big pitch and my Birthday on Monday, I had news about that Tuesday and Friday last week.

A few weeks ago I was at old family friends non-wedding celebration in Portugal, which was amazing. It was also great to catch up with a bunch of friends from France I hadn't seen in a long time. It's going to be six years I've been in London next month and I'm starting to think it might be soon time to move back to France. No hurries, but it's on my mind now.

All in all I'm glad to be living in interesting times and I'll keep you updated more often.

PS: Not sure the poster of Frantic is the really most appropriate for the post, my life is not as dramatic as that, but it's still an awesome movie. Check it out if you've never seen it.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Stop to smell the roses!

Contrary to vastly exaggerated rumours of kidnapping in South America or even death, I am actually very much still alive and kicking; I just haven't been doing that much here. Nor on Twitter, not so much on Facebook or Foursquare either. I'm still following these to an extent, adding the odd comment and replying to people but not as actively as before my holidays in December.

I was lucky to spend the whole month of December in Peru and Bolivia, I took this photo on the last day of the Inca trail, a magnificent view overlooking the Urubamba river from the top of Inca farming terraces. I obviously wasn't stuck to a computer screen all the time over there as I usually am in London and didn't get any painful withdrawal symptoms. I still don't miss it that much either. I've been getting back up to date into the advertising / digital / tech / planning news and back into day to day work, and haven't been feeling any massive urge to broadcast online. I've also been thinking about a few different projects, such as writing more fiction, which I have been doing a little bit of, and making stuff but I don't know what yet.

I'm not really sure what is behind having kept a bit quiet on the various social sites lately, but what occurs to me right now is that as much as I love the Internet, you just can't beat reality.

Exchanging a few tweets is fun, but never as great as having a proper conversation around a table with a few beers or a bottle of wine.

I love reading my favourite planning type blogs, but it's never as good as exchanging ideas and talking with their authors over lunch.

The photo I posted above looks great, but only the reality of sitting on that ledge with the whole valley at your feet might actually take your breath away.

Amongst a few other things that happened lately and are probably influencing this post, my aunt passed away last week and I was in Holland for the funeral on Friday. It was quite unexpected. It was a great family weekend and we celebrated my aunt Anneke's memory with many stories, sadness, tears, laughter, excellent food and too much drinking. I hadn't seen my aunt in over two years, only talked to her a few times on the phone, and the last interaction we ever had was actually through Facebook given she recently registered. Maybe that'll be completely normal one of these days, but in the meantime it feels pretty weird to me.

I was reading this article earlier today, extraordinarily featuring my friends Kai and Michael which also made me wonder some more about this.

Everything is moving so fast in this digital age where we are consuming and compiling plenty of stuff from plenty of places, but are we really appreciating and enjoying them?

As awesome as technology and the Internet are, they're a means, not an end. And whether you choose to stop from time to time and smell the roses or not, at the end you'll really just be dead all the same.

Are you stopping to smell the roses..?