The Indian Premier League – Observing Brand Behaviour

Since 2008, the vast majority of people with Indian origins look forward to the month of April. That includes the huge non-resident population across the globe, and especially in the US and the UK. The event? The DLF Indian Premier League, which has more or less revolutionised the way cricket is played (and watched) by millions of people.

The final game of the 2010 IPL was last Sunday. I’m not a massive cricket fan myself, but being surrounded by people who are, I’m pretty familiar with it now.

There’s a LOT of money being poured into it. To give you an idea (if you’re not familiar with the IPL as such), here’s what Wikipedia says:

In 2010, IPL became the first sporting event ever to be broadcast live on the popular video sharing website YouTube. It’s brand value was estimated to be around $4.13 billion (over Rs 18,000 crore) the same year. According to global sports salaries review, IPL is the second highest-paid league, based on first-team salaries on a pro rata basis, second only to the NBA. It is estimated that the average salary of an IPL player over a year would be £2.5 million.

OK, got that?

Now, going on to what I wanted to say, the key sponsors have more or less changed the way things like a sixer, a catch or a wicket are referred to by people in India, at least during the IPL. Terms like these are standard:

Citi Moment of Success (when a 4 or 6 is hit or when a wicket falls)
Karbonn Kamaal Catches (for a catch)
DLF Maximum 6’s Award (self-explanatory)
Maxx Mobile Strategic Time-Out (self-explanatory)

Technically it’s just the commentators at the moment. When a ball is caught mid-air, the commentator actually says ‘And that’s a Karbonn Kamaal catch!’ (it’s probably a legal requirement), but I’m sure it’ll become common amongst the public as time goes by. Brands are certainly leveraging the mass appeal of the event – I hadn’t even heard of Karbonn Mobiles or Maxx Mobiles before. (DLF is a huge infrastructure company and Citi = Citibank, in case you were wondering).

I wonder if this kind of heavy-handed ‘say our brand name when this action happens during the game or else’ behaviour will slowly change the way people refer to basic things like sixes and fours in India. A few years down the line, young kids will grow up thinking ‘DLF Maximum’ is an actual prefix to ‘six’.

I tried to think of other examples of brands altering languages in this way, not just as a title sponsor which we’re used to – and I hit a wall. Can you think of anything?

Introducing Robin of Shoreditch

Yes, like Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest, only this is a group of Robins (“creative outlaws”, they call themselves) and they’re based in that London ‘hood of creativity, Shoreditch (of course). If you’re still wondering what this is about, Robin of Shoreditch have decided that as their first project they want to help the people of Haiti. They’ve sent an invoice to the top 100 brands in the Brandz Top 100 Brands report, for 1/10,000,000 (one ten-millionth) of the value of the brand, along with a creative idea that will help the brand get ahead in the race for people’s attention. The amount collected will go to Haiti relief efforts.

The good news? Well, just that they exist, I suppose! I think it’s a super creative idea and it’s for a good cause, so I’m all for what they’re doing. You can see all the ideas here.

The bad news? If you look at the collections page, none of the brands approached so far (they’re sending their ideas to a set of brands every week in different batches) has paid up. Those approached so far include T-Mobile, Ariel, UPS, HSBC, Tesco, McDonald’s, Morgan Stanley, Nike and Blackberry.

I really like their most recent one, for Blackberry:

So go on, ye merry men (and women!). Spread the word.

Playmakers

Last week I went to the London premiere of Playmakers at NESTA. Playmakers is a film by Ivo Gormley that documents the open design process that Alex Fleetwood and Holly Gramazio went through to design Scoop!, a real life game that was played by adults in July 2009 on the South Bank in London. (Some of you may remember Ivo from his previous film about crowdsourcing, Us Now, that I blogged about here). The project was backed by Think Public, NESTA and Hide & Seek.

Holly and Alex are pervasive game designers, and the film traces their journey of designing Scoop! through lessons learnt during other games that the team designed, such as Capture the Flag. As an adult, I see precious little of the fun elements in routine chores because they aren’t designed to be fun, and Playmakers tries to underline how play can make a huge difference to the way we view things. The film also included snippets of interviews with urban design lecturers who said that urban design should encourage play. Sometimes that is all the difference between lacklustre physical spaces and those that encourage positive social behaviour and active participation in society.

Most importantly though, I took home the fact that games are platforms for stories. And anything interesting takes the form of story-telling, really. Ian Drysdale’s tweet sums it up perfectly:

The film will have be available to the public soon, but in the meantime here are the videos made during the project last year, that will give you a taste of what Playmakers is all about.

Translating words into art

One of my favourite talks at SXSW was danah boyd’s, on privacy and publicity in a socially networked world. She’s put up the transcript of her talk here, and you should read it if you haven’t already.

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Heather Willems of ImageThink, a company that translates talks into real-time visuals, was hard at work during the session and what you see above is what she drew as danah was speaking at SXSW. Heather kindly sent a clean graphic of her work to a bunch of us who requested it after the talk – thanks Heather!

I also thought her work on Daniel Pogue’s double review of the iPad in the New York Times last week (one for techies, one for everyone else, as he says), was quite amusing:

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Lessons for life from Greg Kot’s book on Wilco

From Wilco: Learning How to Die by Greg Kot (Wilco is one of my favourite bands), all quotations by Jeff Tweedy.

The main thing I learned is that the more I can forget about being embarrassed when I make something, the more it is going to mean something to somebody else. I can’t anticipate what it’s going to be or how it’s going to be perceived, so the quicker I let go of something I make, the better.

—-

Democracy is a very unrealistic and difficult thing in the context of a band. It’s best to hope for a benign dictatorship.

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I started writing from the viewpoint of America as this imagined space, the America that exists in everyone. There is nothing more abstract to me than the idea of a country. These solitudes exist so apart from each other in this sea of white noise and information. And the beautiful thing is they keep transmitting to each other in the hope that somebody is going to find them. And the beauty is that people still do, still find some meaning in another person, in a relationship, find some way to communicate, even though more often than not it’s in a way not what they intended. Because some communication is better than giving up or not communicating at all.

—-

To people who say I’m acting like an indie artist on a major record label I say ‘I don’t now any other way.’ I’ve been trained historically not to expect things I make to go through the roof, and that if I make the record I believe in, it will grow incrementally, and that the record I made three years ago will be more appreciated now than the record I’m currently making. [….] When somebody makes a piece of music, and they aim for a target and hit it, that purity is lost on a lot people, because what it may communicate to future generations is the love for money or the desire for fame. But the ability to do that is human, an it’s insanely powerful and profound to connect with a fan like that. Some people in the record industry may not think so, but I would welcome that sort of connection. But that’s not something I could even think about, let alone control. The only kind of ‘direct marketing’ we’ve ever been good at is going out and playing for people. And the only thing I can be confident about is that I do everything I can to stay focused on the act of making music, not how it will be perceived or how much it will sell. Because as soon as I do that, the music is fucked.

A call to American Airlines

I had a very bad experience with American Airlines on my way back from the US a couple of weeks ago. Thought I’d describe it here so you can tell me what you think.

So, I get to the airport 2 minutes late to check in my baggage for my flight to Austin from Los Angeles. (If I was travelling just with hand luggage, I would have been fine). No, there was no way they could change the rule to accommodate me. OK, bad luck. I agree it was my mistake I got there late. The solution was to be put on the next flight – which would still get me there in time for my connecting flight to London, but (of course) it was full as they cancelled a flight 3 days ago and were still managing the overflow from it. They’d only be able to put me on standby. Given that I had an international connecting flight to catch, I was advised to go to another airline and see if I could get a confirmed seat by buying a new ticket from them. No, they would not be able to help me despite having a partnership agreement with the international airline I was flying.  No, they would not be able to check with the other domestic airline they suggested I go to as they didn’t have any agreement with them. And no, they would not be able to hold my standby position either. So, trying to find my way around an unfamiliar airport, I run downstairs to catch the airport shuttle bus which would take me to the terminal from which the other airline operated. After getting on (and off) a wrong bus, I finally reached and made my way to the ticketing counter of the other airline. There, I waited in a long queue and got to the desk only to learn that they wouldn’t be able to help me as the earliest flight they had would get me to Austin too late for my connecting flight. So I catch the shuttle back, and go back to the original airline to see if I can keep my standby position. No – too late for that, apparently, again by – hold your breath – 2 minutes. The lady at the ticket booth was reasonably polite, given the situation, but referred me to her supervisor standing next to her, who was downright unpleasant. (Marisa at the American Airlines counter in Los Angeles, that’s you). I would have switched the positions of the two. The manager looked like she needed way more front-desk training than the person who was reporting to her.

I then tried calling the international airline (their local ticketing booth at the airport was not yet open so I couldn’t go in person), and was told that due to restrictions on my ticket, I could not change my reservation EVEN THOUGH I OFFERED TO PAY THE DIFFERENCE. The solution they offered? To buy a fresh one-way ticket (of course), but at what cost? Double the cost of my original RETURN ticket.

I was in tears by then but fortunately called family and friends to see what the cost of an alternative ticket would be on any available international airline. Guess what? I was able to get one at LESS THAN ONE-THIRD the cost quoted by the international airline I was originally booked on, which I finally took.

I inferred these things:

  1. There really is no point being a member of airline miles programmes if you’re looking for help in times of a crisis because unless you are a Gold level member, you might as well be a non-entity.
  2. It doesn’t matter if an airline is almost broke, they’d rather have empty seats on a flight rather than offer a reasonable price for a ticket, even if you’re a member of their privilege programme (refer point 1).
  3. Airline alliance programmes are quite pointless if you’re looking for help – it’s the rule of the one airline or the highway, partner relationships be damned.

The whole experience was very distressing, and I tried to think about what other solutions could have been:

-       Staff from the first airline could have checked with staff from the other domestic airline by phone to see if anything was available, or at the very least given me a number to call so I wouldn’t have had to waste valuable time dashing all the way across. I was after all a paying customer.

-       They could have kept me on standby and given me x number of minutes to get back to them after checking with the other airline so I wouldn’t be late to check my bag in.

-       They could have offered to put my bag inside the aircraft in a space chosen by them after everyone else had stored theirs (I had only one suitcase which was only slightly bigger than regular cabin baggage, and I’m not being subjective).

-       The international airline could have offered to put me on the next flight for a price that wasn’t ridiculous. I wasn’t changing my ticket for fun after all.

I thought the airline industry was a customer-focussed business. I was grossly mistaken. The attitude is more like ‘You paid money for a ticket on our airline? You poor fool!’

This is the true test of customer service. American Airlines, all I request is to be reimbursed for the cost of my ticket. Let’s see if anyone out there is listening on your behalf.

On Cultural Evolution

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I was at the RSA a few days ago to listen to Professor Mike O’Brien from the University of Missouri and Dr. Alex Bentley of Durham University speak about how their research on evolution can be applied to human behavioural studies, courtesy Mark Earls.  One of the examples Dr. Bentley mentioned that stuck with me was how when we go to buy a pair of glasses, we tend to buy glasses that we’d seen people wearing on the way to the store (frequency dependent bias, which results in homogeneity, which in turn results in something becoming contagious – or to me, a trend). I thought that was quite interesting.

Another example that Professor O’Brien mentioned was the Charge of the Brides that happens in Filene’s Basement every year, which I remember from that episode of Friends. There’s a lot of sociological theory I remember from university that can be applied here (mobs, collective behaviour and so on), but this kind of herd behaviour is what in general results in inventions often becoming innovations, as he mentioned.

At work, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a project a success through propagation planning. The cultural evolution theory explains why this is so difficult. As it says here, as human populations transform themselves, their culture becomes progressively complex. So it isn’t easy.

And so I beaver on.

Ada Lovelace Day: An Interview with Michelle You of Songkick

Ada Lovelace Day was on March 24th. I didn’t blog about a woman in tech that day, as I pledged to do, but I’m doing it now. After all, better late than never, right?

As someone who loves music and really enjoys going to gigs, I was very happy when Songkick launched last year. It was as if they’d sensed this gap that I was feeling and stepped right in to feel it. Songkick is a site that enables anyone to log all the concerts they go to. It has social features like sharing the gigs you go to on Twitter and Facebook, the ability to post reviews, photos and videos, and of course buy tickets. The site recently got a new look, and I’m sure there’s lots more in the pipeline.

Songkick was launched by Ian Hogarth, Michelle You and Pete Smith, three young entrepreneurs with an aim to make going to concerts as ‘simple as going to the movies’, as you’ll read below. I got in touch with Michelle to ask if she’d like to be interviewed, she was very enthusiastic about it, and so here I present my interview with her as part of Ada Lovelace Day 2010.

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1. Prior to co-founding Songkick with Ian and Pete, you were the Managing Editor of Theme magazine in the UK. Tell me more about your experience there: what were your days like, how long were you there, and what do you think you learnt that you didn’t know before?

Theme is a tiny arts & culture quarterly. I started out as an intern and ended up being their first full-time staff. I was only there one year, but learned so much there. The magazine was founded by an extraordinary couple who had design backgrounds. They quit their stable jobs to start Theme, so it was my first close encounter with entrepreneurs. My days were filled with everything to do with producing a magazine: researching future stories, interviewing, writing, managing freelance writers and photographers, editing articles, managing the print schedule, and contributing my opinion to layout and art direction.

I honed my editorial eye there. Being in charge of product has a lot in common with being an editor. You learn how to identify what’s really important and cut out everything extraneous. You learn how to communicate with people

2. How did your experience at Theme lead to co-founding Songkick (or was there no relation?!)

There was no relation at all. Ian wanted to start a company of some sort. I knew him from studying Chinese in Beijing back in 2005. Initially I helped with the concept of Songkick and all the design work from the beginning, while still working full-time at Theme. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do Songkick full-time, but the more involved I got, the more invested I was in Songkick’s success.

3. As a fan and regular user of Songkick, I’ve filled in your feedback questionnaire. One of the questions I saw there is something I’d like to ask you: who do you feel are Songkick’s competitors?

Thanks for filling out our survey. :)

This is a tough question. Ultimately, we want Songkick to be the home for live music online. We want to make sure you never miss a great concert, ever. And afterwards, we want to be the place where you share those experiences. There are plenty of websites that do pieces of this, but there’s no single strong online presence that really lives up to why live music is so incredible, that really captures what’s so great about seeing your favorite bands live. The brand most people associate with live music is Ticketmaster, so that’s who we want to be bigger than.

4. How is Songkick funded and what is your revenue model?

We raised a series A round of funding last year, which has allowed us to build the team we need to build the product we want. Right now, we make money from ticket affiliates, meaning every time you buy a ticket through Songkick, the vendor sends us a tiny affiliates fee. There are plenty more plans for revenue in the pipeline.

5. This interview is part of Ada Lovelace Day. Do you think women have enough representation in technology? As an entrepreneur, what are the challenges for women in the UK Tech industry?

Of course women don’t have enough representation in technology. Women struggle for equality across all industries, but in technology our absence seems especially pronounced. This problem so thorny and myriad, any 200-word statement won’t do it justice, but it’s something I care deeply about. The most intelligent writing on this subject I’ve come across is Eric Ries’s blog post, “Why Diversity Matters”.

I can’t speak on behalf of women in the UK tech industry, especially because I’m not British and Songkick is my first real experience with the UK tech industry. I wish it were as simple as straight-up, explicit sexism (which I have encountered), but unfortunately the challenges are far more subtle than that. It starts with the expectations around us as young girls, the way we’re taught in schools, the representation we have in the media, attitudes towards maternity, all the way to the lack of strong female role models in technology. It’s a social problem, an institutional problem.

That said, I think the best way to have more women in technology is to have more women in technology, normalizing the idea of women with a technical background so that it’s no longer viewed as exceptional. The tautological nature of that statement points to how difficult it will be to achieve that.

6. You graduated from Columbia and went on to do a Master’s at Cambridge in the UK. Where are you originally from, and how did that shape the kind of person you’ve become?

I grew up in the Silicon Valley and both my parents were programmers. My mom used to work for Appleback in the 80s. Despite this or maybe because of this, I never considered programming as an attractive career option, but I was exposed to computers and the Internet from a very early age–it was always a part of our family. I’ve always been fascinated by the power of the web, especially in the way it spreads information and connects people. I remember logging into chatrooms obsessively and researching my favorite anime characters.

At Columbia I majored in English and Philosophy, and at Cambridge I got a master’s in cultural criticism. I guess if you want to tell a coherent story, you could say that I’m very interested in the way the Internet changes our culture.

7. Do you think start-ups in the US have it easier than the UK? Why or why not?

You know what? I have no idea. Ian and Pete always tell me that doing a start-up isn’t encouraged in the UK, and I’m sure having that support system in the US–where doing a start-up is seen as a valid career option–can help. But on the flipside, being in the echo-chamber of the Valley must also hold people back, you can mire yourself in keeping tabs on what other start-ups are doing or lose all grounding sense of how normal people use the web because all you hear day-in-day out is the hoopla around the next tech trend du jour.

I think doing a start-up is hard full-stop, no matter where you do it. And the difficulty of doing a start-up at all outweighs any hypothetical benefits a start-up might gain by being in the US or the UK.

8. At SXSW recently, Daniel Ek of Spotify made a very interesting comment about how he wants to make music ‘as accessible as water’. What is Songkick’s philosophy of music and gigs in particular?

I guess the pithy quote would be that we want to make going to concerts as easy as going to the movies. Everyone at Songkick is a huge gig-goer and we all really value seeing our favorite artists live. We have experienced that life-changing gig and want to help more people have that experience. It’s way too hard to go to concerts right now, it’s too much work to find out about the ones you want to go to, where to buy tickets, find out whether they’re on sale yet, sold out, etc. For all of these reasons, it’s really hard to concerts. According to a recent Mintel survey, 60% of the adult population in the UK didn’t go to concert in the last year. There should be no reason for that!

9. Describe a typical day for you at Songkick. What do you like and dislike about it?

The biggest part of my job is in understanding what our users want and translating that into the stuff we make. In a typical day, I can be doing anything from wireframing mock-ups to writing specs for upcoming features to surveying our users to digging into our analytics to understand what people are doing on the site to making more long-terms plans about where Songkick should go next and why.

Another important aspect of my job, and one that I constantly strive to improve, is to make sure everyone in the team is communicating well and understanding the shared goals we have, whether it’s specific to the feature that’s being built or more long-term.

I wish I had more time to step away from the day to day to really think about Songkick in a longterm way, where I think we should be in five years. I love the fact that I’m making something that directly improves peoples’ lives.

10. Where next for Songkick? Tell me more!

We’re most focused on delivering on the promise that, if you use Songkick, you will never miss a concert again. That means making sure we have all the upcoming concerts for all the artists in the entire world, which is a huge, huge task.

Thanks very much for your considered and insightful answers, Michelle. I’ll be watching with interest as Songkick continues to make going to gigs a social thing that people can always look back on and remember. Hopefully I’ll see you at a gig some day soon!