Friday Jan 05, 2007

Ryanair fails to close down web site

I have only flown on Ryanair a couple of times to Ancona, a holiday destination in northern Italy which is not served by any other carrier out of the UK. On both occasions, being the height if the summer peak season, I had to pay scheduled airline fares and despite it being a no frills budget airline. It would have been slightly cheaper to fly with BA to Bologna further to the north. As I recall, both times the flights were delayed.

Despite the media profile of its exuberant founder usually playing the underdog card (sound familiar?) Ryanair is under attack from many different groups - today by a government minister over the airline's apparent disregard for environmental issues. Not least of its critics are many of its own passengers who have found it virtually impossible to get in touch with the company to complain.

One such disgruntled passenger for whom Ryanair lost his luggage leaving him stranded at Ancona airport in only the clothes he was wearing and then incredibly charged him £160 to fly back home, decided two years ago to set-up a critical web site at the URL www.ryanair.org.uk. Numerous other passengers then posted their own complaints about the airline on the site.

Last year, Ryanair took the case on trademark infringement grounds to Nominet, the organisation that resolves domain name disputes. Ryanair won the case, but the site's owner, undaunted by the ruling set-up a new website at www.ryanaircampaign.org This time the legal team from Ryanair took its case to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, a committee of the United Nations and lost its case.

As a result, like the McDonald's 'McLibel' trail, Ryanair has generated considerable publicity for the site and according to its owner quoted in Private Eye, he would have allowed things to die down had he not been pursued by Ryanair's legal team.

This is certainly not the first time that a company has tried to close down a web site. On the Internet, so-called cyber squatters have deliberately registered URLs with addresses close to established names in the hope that the brand owner will offer to purchase the URL to avoid confusion among their own users or protect their reputation.

Unlike any other communication media before it, the Web and more recently blogs have created a feedback or response mechanism for customers, that often through word-of-mouth, can rapidly build an audience to rival a company's own web site.

Thursday Jan 04, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth: factual programming moving out of peak time

In contrast to Casino Royale (see Tuesday blog) one film that most advertisers would probably have paid to ensure their products were not on prominent display would be 'An Inconvenient Truth'.

I rented the DVD to watch over the holiday with my family, having previously seen the film as an in-flight movie, paradoxically while travelling in the upper atmosphere above the Atlantic and across Greenland and Northern Canada, parts of the world most at risk from global warming.

Since leaving office five years ago, Al Gore has managed to bring the subject of global warming to the attention of a new audience - North American movie goers. Like recent films by Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, his documentary film has become a modest box office success with audiences. Although Gore adopted a restrained lecture theatre approach to presenting his argument, the scientific evidence he presented was overwhelming. However, given the subject matter and underlying message, it was rather irritating to see Gore throughout the film being chauffeured around in large limousine type cars or at one point at the wheel of a 4x4 off-road vehicle (needless to say being driven on a road).

Interestingly, he choose (or was forced to choose) cinema rather than television as a platform to convey his message. Traditionally, despite network television schedules being dominated by popular dramas, light entertainment and sitcoms during peak times, most channels have always allocated time outside of peak to documentary programmes. Despite audience fragmentation, a network television broadcast might have created more public debate and arguably would have reached a much wider audience. Movie goers by virtue of paying-to-view a film are likely to be already more sympathetic to the film's message than the US population as a whole.

When the history books of the noughties (a term increasing being applied to the 2000s) are written, it's quite possible that former US vice president Al Gore will have been judged to have made a greater impact on the global warming debate forward from outside of the White House than the current 'lame duck' president will have been able to achieve from inside the Oval Office - even if he was inclined to join the debate.

Wednesday Jan 03, 2007

Camera phone footage challenge to news media agenda

The Iraqi authorities had hoped that by releasing their own edited version of Saddam Hussein's hanging that they could show the world that an orderly and 'dignified' execution had been carried out - in complete contrast to the way that Saddam's own regime brutally treated its victims.

Instead, sound and pictures shot by a camera phone smuggled in by either one of the guards or witnesses recorded Saddam being taunted just before he was killed. As a result, Saddam's death has become the most controversial media disclosure from Iraq since the pictures of American soldiers abusing prisoners inside Abu Ghraib were released in 2004.

In a short space of time, the camera phone has become the most powerful news gathering tool available to 'citizen reporters'. Not only can most new mobile handsets record video but these images can be almost instantaneously distributed over the network to other users and uploaded to the Web. File sharing sites such as YouTube also now have many video postings form American soldiers serving in Iraq.

After the 7/7 London bombings in July 2005, news organisations for the first time widely used camera phone footage from victims caught up in the blasts particularly those on the London Underground trains. In the past couple of years, video sharing sites on the Internet combined with 24 hour news channels have had the effect of moving television news coverage towards lower (production value) quality, unedited on-the-spot content.

So-called citizen journalism will increasingly challenge the official version of events. This quite possibly will spill over into other situations in which the coverage is tightly controlled, e.g. fashion shows, and 'manufactured media events' such as award ceremonies and film launches. This has the potential to provide parallel coverage in much the same way that paparazzi photography has created a new magazine sector that co-exists alongside mainstream titles that use carefully managed photo shoots and interviews.

Tuesday Jan 02, 2007

Product Placement: Subtlety Increases Effectiveness

Over the Christmas and New Year holiday, as a family we finally went to see Casino Royale, the new James Bond film at our local cinema. The film's producers seem to have largely managed to re-invent the James Bond on-screen franchise, that in recent films had become too cheesy, overly dependent on special effects and predictable one-liners, and had strayed ever further away from the original Ian Fleming novels.

As a film, Casino Royale abandoned several of the established Bond film cinematic clichés such as the opening chase / escape sequence, car chases through crowded streets (replaced by a chase on foot) and even the silhouettes of women used as background images during the opening titles. Even the familiar electric guitar-led Monty Norman theme tune was held back until the final scene in the film.

What was noticeable was the amount of blatant product placement scattered throughout the film. For example, the parking lot outside of the Casino Royale could have been a Ford luxury car showroom since it contained mainly Volvo; Jaguar and Range Rover models alongside Bond's own government provided Aston Martin (also owned by Ford). The convoy of three showroom clean Land Rover Defenders driving through the African jungle almost worked - but my children couldn't understand why James Bond was shown driving a Ford Focus.

Screen shoots of Sony Ericsson mobile handsets were also interspersed throughout and weaved into the plot - not surprising perhaps since Columbia Pictures is also a division of Sony Corp. Bond's preference for Omega watches ahead of Rolex was even included in the script.

In the same way that viewers can distinguish between editorial and paid-for advertising content in the Media, content producers need to ensure that all product placement is handled subtly. Otherwise paid-for product placement is in danger of becoming a cliché of itself.

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