Posts Tagged ‘naked’

The Joy of Fabulous Nobodies: Naked Whitehall Guy, I Salute You

This afternoon, Twitter has been captivated by a brand new golden balls. We don’t know who he is yet, or why he did it, but he ensured Whitehall was shut down for several hours after he scaled the statue of the first Duke of Cambridge, Prince George, stripped off and performed a number of acrobatic balances atop George’s hat.

I have long been a champion of what I like to call the Fabulous Nobodies: the ordinary people who experience a meteoric ascent to fame- or infamy- in the most unpredictable of circumstances. The rise of the Fabulous Nobodies coincides with the advent of social media. The man in the street is now able to create his own heroes, and it turns out he’s often just as interested in an errant deer chasing dog, or a naked man balancing on a statue, as the latest record-company-groomed, airbrushed pop starlet.

This reveals an important truth about narratives that captivate. We are drawn to stories that resonate with our everyday experiences; the raw materials of real life are easily recognisable to us, and that is why the memes that spread online are so often the ones that strike us as human, rather than those created by committees of marketing folk. It is the inherent, addictive shareability of these stories that assures their dissemination and leads to the creation of legendary figures for the Now Economy. The bad news is you can’t make them up. The good news is they exist in every single organisation that has human beings at its heart. All you have to do is look for them. As the internet becomes an ever more ubiquitous tool in the spreading of information, shifting the focus of communications from broadcast to interaction, those that will survive and thrive are the brands that understand the power of the real stories that drive them.

In honour of the newest, most celebrated ‘member’ of my Official Chart of Fabulous Nobodies, I thought I’d run down a few of my favourites of all time: the good, the bad and the ugly.

1) Guy Goma. Remember the ‘cabbie who was waiting for his fare’ in the BBC reception? He was hauled in front of the cameras by researchers who believed he was an IT expert. Except he wasn’t an IT expert and, once the story got out, it went wild across the web, taking the truth and creating a better story from it, to the extent that Goma, who had in fact come in for a job interview, became a cabbie whisked at random into the studio. And that invented truth is the one that sticks in people’s brains.

2) Jedward. The Irish irritants from the 2009 X Factor continue to carve a semblance of a career for themselves as far removed from music as it is possible to be when one has a record in the shops. The mere fact that they survived, week after week, in the face of booing and staged derision from the shows judges, proves how viral their success had become. Jedward are the pop equivalents of puppets on children’s television – they are there to shout and gurn and be pleasingly annoying. They will last in the nether regions of the collective consciousness for a while yet, thanks to viral, net-based love.

3) Balloon Boy. The insalubrious tale of the family who sought fame with unbecoming desperation and how they exploited the fears of the world to get attention for themselves, by pretending that their six year old son had been carried off by a helium balloon they used to track the weather. The six year old was in the attic all the time that the search and rescue teams were pumping thousands of dollars into trying to rescue him. The parents’ hoax, created out of a desperation for fame after appearing on Wife Swap and Storm Chasers, in the hope that they would get a reality TV contract out of it, ended with short jail sentences for them both.

5) Terry Jones. The pastor of a tiny Pentecostal church in Florida who decided that it would be a good idea to declare 9/11 Koran burning day. Within hours, his lunatic anti-Muslim agenda was getting oxygen from the world’s media, the White House and an enormous number of furious Muslims. Now Jones has been called by the FBI, White House officials and the world’s media. There have been protests about his actions across the Muslim world and intolerance has been amplified. And this before Jones even set match to book – something he never need do at all. The desired effect, making the world a less friendly place, had already been achieved.

6) Star Wars Kid. A chunky 15-year-old Canadian who filmed himself swinging a golf club around as if it were a lightsabre and ended up posted to YouTube by friends, to the hilarity of millions. The video became a cult hit, mimicked and jazzed up with special effects and sliced into footage from films like The Matrix. The film, in all its iterations, sped round and round the globe. The kid in question claimed to want his life back, especially after early mean comments, but then a wave of love came flooding in. Eventually his parents discussed suing the friends who posted the video, but it was too late to stop the viral nature of the video.

7) Mahir Cagri. A Turkish journalist who was looking for a wife, Cagri created a website with a friend to aid him in his search. The website went viral with astonishing rapidity thanks to the broken English he employed (his catchphrase, “I Kiss You” being the most notable example) and the incredibly cheesy photos – posing in red Speedos, playing Ping Pong – that he posted. Instead of finding a wife, he found a harsh mistress by the name of Fame, and ended up releasing a single and a book. He also got a ranking on the Forbes top 100 celebrities list and made appearances on chat show worldwide.

8) Leeroy Jenkins. A World Of Warcraft player charges into a high-level dungeon with a distinctive cry of “Leeeeeeeerooooy… Jeeenkins!”, ruining the meticulous attack plans of his group and getting them all killed. Like Star Wars Kid, the online gameplay footage went global, with jammed versions putting the nerdy battle cry into the mouths of all sorts.

9) Claire Swire. Claire went on a date with a guy and then sent him an email describing in vivid detail how much she liked giving him oral sex. The email went viral to 60 million people after he forwarded it to all his friends and Claire became one of the first big victims of the lack of privacy in the new social media world.

10) JK Wedding Entrance Dance. The wedding procession for Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz of St Paul, Minnesota, choreographed to the song Forever by Chris Brown. Popularized on YouTube with 1.75 million views in less than five days in 2009. The video was later imitated in an episode of the American version of The Office.

11) Steven Slater. From the moment JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater swore at a passenger over the PA, grabbed a beer and descended to the tarmac at JFK airport down the emergency chute, the entire internet lead the response, whilst JetBlue’s corporate arm squashed the company’s previously golden child social networking department’s ability to respond. JetBlue were caught between a rock and a hard place. The brand was powerless, trapped in the headlights of an extreme action, one which captured the global wave and birthed another fabulous internet nobody.

12) Chesley B. Sullenberger III. The splendidly-named Sullenberger became an instant hero when he landed the Airbus he was flying in the Hudson river, just next to Manhattan, after it ran into technical difficulties in January 2009. Within hours of saving the lives of all on board, Facebook groups had sprung up praising him and the web-based cult of Sullenberger flew around the globe.

13) Sarah Palin. What election will be the same in the wake of Barack Obama’s canny use of Twitter to swell support for his 2008 campaign? More astonishing still was Sarah Palin’s rise into the upper echelons of American politics, largely driven by a huge groundswell of interest on the internet, which carried her name, either in all seriousness or in satirical sideswipes. The end result was to transmute a minor, gaffe-prone politician into a national treasure of the American political right.

14) Fenton When Max Findlay took his dog Fenton for a relaxed stroll on Richmond Common, little did he realise he was about to become one of YouTube’s biggest ever hits. With 7.5million views and counting, the enthusiasm for the video of the mayhem that unfolded when Fenton ran into a herd of deer, and his owner’s desperate cries of ‘Jesus Christ…Fenton!’, is the ultimate expression of the British love of life’s eccentric bunglers. Inevitably it has generated a host of commercial spin offs, including T-shirts, mugs, and a Where’s Wally style book where Fenton runs amok at various London landmarks.

Prince Harry Delivers

Back in August Mark predicted Prince Harry’s overexposure in Vegas would result in a significant tourism boom for Sin City, writing in his blog:

‘(Prince Harry’s) party machine  focused exceptional  attention on Las Vegas this week. It’s now enjoying  astonishing and unprecedented Royal endorsement, the kind of patronage money can’t buy… Without spending a cent, the casino owners will cash in on a massive jackpot; a payout of undreamt fortunes.’

This morning the papers report that the naked pictures of the Prince have resulted in a $23 million boost to the city. Proof- if ever it were needed- that sometimes all good PR requires is a little bit of cheek.

Prince Harry’s Magic PR Touch

The success of Innocent and Red Bull beverage brands inspired a slew of wannabe drink entrepreneurs ten years ago . Many of the hopefuls wandered  through my doors looking for PR.  One afternoon, two well healed young men stepped into my office bristling with an array of technicolour bottles, full of herbal fizz. A turbo charged mixture  they believed would make them very, very rich. I sat with them interrogating their back story, probing  for a hook which I could hang a campaign on. I believe great launch campaigns stem from the interrogation of a simple core truth, which can be expressed clearly to an audience. It’s not uncommon to unearth a story which the prospective client hasn’t realised is the killer app to create brand infamy.

On this particular occasion I struck gold. One of the guys spilled the beans. He was  a personal friend of Prince Harry. It took a further twenty minutes to excavate the real treasure,  the herbal tonic was adored by the Royal rat pack. However,  the client refused to believe there was any value in an endorsement from a party loving Prince, who favoured  the elixir  as a hangover cure. This dispatched the drink to the ideas junk yard in the sky. It was to be one of many, ultimately  crushed by the global drinks clients.

I guess the Las Vegas casino and tourist businesses have the opposite view of the Lad Prince. His party machine  focused exceptional  attention on Las Vegas this week. It’s now enjoying  astonishing and unprecedented Royal endorsement, the kind of patronage money can’t buy. Perhaps another way to view this week’s  rumpus is to call it a  staggering  PR coup – a global publicity campaign for the mischievous  joys of sin city. Elvis, Siegfried and Roy, Cirque du  Soliel  are so yesterday.  Overnight in every corner of the globe, young lads and women will be saving their cash to head for the shallow pool parties offered by the casinos to emulate the antics.  Without spending a cent, the casino owners will cash in on a massive jackpot; a payout of undreamt fortunes. I can imagine the “Visit Las Vegas” bureau chiefs high fiving one another the length of the strip, reminiscent of the smart casino PR folk of the 1960s who knew a trick or two about spinning the misfortune of celebrities on the lash in Vegas.

So, what lessons can we learn from the soap opera?  Two low res grainy camera phone images captured the fun and vitality of the party spirit of Sin City.  A simple visual metaphor empowering an enthralling narrative. It possessed the triggers and amplifiers to generate a PR story, making it  shareable, and captivating.  It was funny, sexy, shocking, spectacular, illuminating, with a touch of  schadenfreude. I preach about  the Now! Economy, in a world in which nothing is certain, and everything is up for grabs. The Now Economy!  is defined by speed, co-ownership, engagement, subjective truths polarity, celebrity and story. Communications in the Now! Economy will come to be defined by terms and tactics conventionally thought of as the domain of PR, because it is only through stories- stories that enrapture and over-ride the sceptical modern mindset- that the public can truly be excited and inspired. Harry’s tale contained all the drivers required to produce a perfect PR storm.

I expect the Prince and his minders to be more aware in the future. Lightening rarely strikes twice. But I suspect he’ll be welcomed with open arms to party in a variety of resorts across the globe. I estimated the value of the publicity generated by the Harry tale to be the region of the same return as the opening of a Hollywood blockbuster. Consider the value to the tax payer if his fun loving troupe was payed a fee to move the three ring circus into a country  in need of a boost.

How about Blackpool? If the hoteliers could only build a party venue big enough for the Prince to misbehave, who knows, the fortunes of the seaside town might be rejuvenated overnight.

Sir, don’t fly off to Afghanistan, spread your mirth, laughter and outrageous antics to destinations in need of a PR boost.

Tony Blair’s Cunning Stunt

If any politician was going to pull off the greatest stunt of a generation, it really had to be Tony Blair. And, by committing all the proceeds from his memoirs (as well as the £4 million advance) to the Royal British Legion’s Battle Back challenge centre, a project that will provide state-of-the-art rehabilitation services for seriously injured troops returning from the frontline, he has done exactly that.

The book can now be read guilt free, knowing that the proceeds will not be lining Blair’s pockets but helping soldiers returning from the frontline. It’s got all the talkability that Mandelson’s book lacked, it’s released in a season when most politicians are on holiday and the only serious competition it has for the front pages are Kelly Brook celebrating naked month by dyeing herself orange and parading in a series of ever-skimpier frocks and Joe McElderry coming out of the closet in the hope that it’ll shift a few more units of his debut album. Read the rest of this entry »

The Bra Necessities

The Swedish military certainly have a way with a publicity stunt, if the story that’s surfaced about poorly designed military bras is anything to go by. Or so my churnophrenic state of mind is telling me, as I dig unceasingly for the truth behind the news. Put it this way, if it’s not a PR stunt, somebody is going to receive a serious dressing down.

According to reports, “flimsy military brassieres are unable to stand up to the strains imposed when female Swedish troops perform ‘rigorous exercises’”. The bras are “routinely bursting open or even [catch] fire – so forcing busty young conscripts to hurriedly strip off in the field.”

This being Sweden, they are presumably not bursting out into Barbara Windsor cackles when it happens, but it couldn’t otherwise be any more Carry On if it tried. And the churnophrenic part of me is wondering who could have planted this one on the press.

Strangely it is the Swedish Conscription Council, an organisation concerned with the rights of conscript troops in the Swedish forces, who have been most vocal on the matter. Council spokesperson Paulina Rehbinder stated in Swedish paper The Local that the problems have persisted for twenty years. “Unaccountably, however, it appears that the male-dominated Swedish military hierarchy has failed to act.”

But, with 2000 new young female recruits said to be joining the armed forces next year – women who will no doubt be expecting to be taken seriously when they are sent of to conflict zones like Afghanistan – they may have to sort out their military bra supply.

My guess is that this story was designed to encourage young men to join up in case this doesn’t happen. And if it doesn’t happen, what then?

Swedish women soldiers! Questionable bras! Striptease in battle situations! I wouldn’t be surprised if someone makes a film…

Truth, Nakedness and PR

A career in PR always provides challenges – certainly I am cautious about some of the work I’ve undertaken and have, in retrospect, had to face out some of the poorer decisions I’ve made, such as promoting alcopops. With this in mind, it’s interesting to see that the Climate Camp 2009 protestors have targeted Edelman for its work with Eon and the proposed Kingsnorth coal-fired power station, standing naked in Edelman’s HQ and demanding transparency. They want to ‘expose the naked truth behind Edelman’.

All well and good; transparency is the watchword of the PR industry now, and will become more like a mantra as time goes on, but I think the protestors’ target is a little soft, given that Edelman are already pretty transparent about their client list. There are other, worthier targets that the Climate Camp protestors need to target if they’re serious about transparency and the naked truth, however.

PR has flourished in the last ten years. It’s seen as a glamorous world, despite the critics who argue that anyone entering it is signing a pact worthy of Faust. Despite both of these perceptions, there are many companies that draw a clean line through the industry. Of course, there are also PR companies out there who covertly take big bucks from tobacco briefs (which are still out there, more than ever since the government’s stance on tobacco advertising has changed), from oil companies, big pharmaceutical companies and the odd despot who needs his reputation laundering. That old PR adage, ‘the dirtier the client, the bigger the budget’ still holds true – the money goes towards make them seem and feel clean to the world at large, hides them behind smokescreens of PR.

The world is facing a myriad of challenges in the coming years and the big test now, for anyone coming into PR, is to decide how to tread the line between profit and a clean profile, the ability to be trusted. The Nick Naylor model of lobbyist and PR, based on the amoral fictional lobbyist and PR man in Jason Reitman’s film Thank You For Smoking, is not going to be easy to escape from as the fight for profit gets harder. This is the sort of man who, when asked why the American government is the best in the world, tells his son that it’s “because of our endless appeals system”.

It’s going to become ever more difficult to stay true to one’s core values with the weight of this sort of cynicism bearing down on people who are desperate to make money in a fast-changing world. The bigger agencies demand hard financial returns, sometimes over and above the wants of the employees; smaller companies often just feel the pressure of having to scrabble for work. Bear in mind that 15 years ago, when I gave talks about PR, I used to face tough, searching questions about the work; this rarely happens now. That’s reason enough to worry.

It doesn’t help that the only lesson seemingly being learned from the early release of the cancer-stricken Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi is that oil buys you freedom. PR can be used all too easily to obfuscate the issues that need confronting – let’s not forget Bhopal or the way the Gulf War was sold. For PR people committed to keeping a clean nose in the industry, transparency means the need to shine a light on psy-ops and dirty tricks – the old school activities of lobbying and public relations. Lessons can be learned from the Climate Camp protestors – and, indeed, by the Climate Camp protestors.

They are passionate fighters, well versed in the direct action movement as exemplified by Greenpeace, but if they really want to make a difference, there are plenty of likelier targets they should be aiming at, naked or clothed. They should be looking into the companies that are nothing like as open and transparent as Edelman. When the Climate protestors really get their teeth into the issue, there are going to be plenty of companies who will be quaking in their boots.