Cabin Fever

Flight International reports (sorry, can’t find a link, but here are some similar stories from Thisislondon and New Electronics) that “BAE Systems and its research partners have completed initial tests with an in-cabin computer vision system intended to identify suspect behaviour by potential terrorists.” Seems the system involves cameras in the cabin with software that analyses the image “for movement or other actions that indicate an unruly or potentially dangerous individual, whether seated or standing.” Some of this, says BAE Systems Advanced Technology Centre human factors specialist Katherine Neary, involves face recognition. Given most people behave badly on airlines, I think they’re going to have to tweak their algorithms if they don’t want to subdue everyone on the flight.

I think I’d prefer an airline like Thailand’s Nok Air, which takes a friendlier attitude to passengers. According to Flight, the low-cost carrier “is expanding its fleet Boeing 737-400s and its fleet of scantily-dressed “PDA girls”” who help check-in passengers that only have carry-on bags. Chief executive Patee Sarasin tries not to sound surprised when he says “It’s been fantastically well received”. Of course he then spoils it by adding: “It is very efficient and costs you less than $4.00 a day to have these girls walking around in Thailand.”

Nok
Khun Patee’s walking check-in counters

 

Has PR Taken Over The Conversation?

Here’s the hot news for a Monday: PR firm Edelman has teamed up with Technorati to develop localized versions of their offering in German, Korean, Italian, French and Chinese. Edelman’s PR teams worldwide will retain exclusive use of these sites as they are being developed, beginning with French this summer. These localized versions – which will include keyword/tag search and more – will evolve into more robust public-facing sites that everyone will be able to access beginning in the first quarter of next year.

Interesting. And, I have to say, puzzling. What is a PR firm doing developing content for what is basically a blog search engine? (I’m sure both companies consider themselves more than that, but strip it away and that’s what you’re left with.) Here’s to me what is the kicker, from Steve Rubel’s blog (Steve now works at Edelman):

This is the first in what we hope will be a series of collaborations with the Technorati team. It is designed to help our clients participate in global conversations. In addition to working with Technorati, we also plan to align ourselves with other companies that are developing outstanding technologies that will help us further this important goal. We look forward to hearing your reaction and ideas.

Now, I’m trying to think this through. Edelman’s interest is in promoting its clients. Fair enough. Technorati would be a great place to do that through advertising. But are there not conflicts of interest, and if so, where and when do they arise? What happens if blogs critical of Edelman’s clients start appearing on Technorati? How do readers know that the rankings are not being tweaked to hide such blogs lower down the search results? How do we know that faux blogs or PR-sponsored material is not finding its way up the rankings, or that the material being translated on these non-English Technorati sites is being developed in-house, so to speak?

I guess I worry too much. Perhaps this is all good stuff, a merging of minds intent on the same transparent goal: better information for all. But some of this new blogosphere world is starting to sometimes sound like a parody of itself; of a court full of people spouting all the right buzzwords, but lacking a lot of their original meaning or sincerity. Or maybe I misunderstood it all in the first place. Technorati man Peter Hirshberg, for example, writes about the Edelman/Technorati deal thus:

With the incredible growth of the blogosphere, brands and media companies worldwide realize that their communications environment is also in for big changes. The clout that bloggers have developed the U.S. is going global. The lessons that marketers have begun to learn here— get a clue, listen, participate, engage— will soon apply everywhere.

Yes, it’s true that the blogosphere is big and going global. Well, it already has gone global. And it’s true that a lot of marketers still need to get a clue. But does it mean that a PR firm takes what sounds to me like a board-like, potentially gate-keeping position in one of the key starting points for anyone looking for information in the blogosphere?

I’m no staunch fan of traditional media. But it spent decades, centuries even, building Chinese walls between the marketing and the editorial departments (and, in some cases, between the opinion pages and the news gathering pages.) This was so that what you read wasn’t influenced (or unduly influenced) by the guy paying the bills, whether it was the proprietor or the advertisers. It didn’t always work. At some places it never worked. But you kind of knew where, as a reader, you stood. For sure, we’re all struggling to find this new balance in the blogosphere, and there’s no reason it needs to look anything like the old model. But we should be talking about it, not just gushing about it, just because everyone is using the same satchel of buzzwords.

Perhaps the key to all this lies in Richard Edelman’s blog. He goes into greater detail about the deal, and it’s clear he’s focusing on the analytics side of Technorati — it’s phenomenal ability to track the blogosphere, not merely in terms of users, but in terms of what they’re talking about. This is a goldmine for marketing folk, of course, and having a global presence Edelman is going to love to get its hands on the analytics of Korean and Chinese blogs — a relatively unknown territory to anyone who doesn’t read those languages. There’s lots in there for them, as there is in the idea that “every company can be a media company”, although I think this one, too, needs a bit more analysis.

But the key is in the last two goals Richard mentions: “make PR people valued contributors to the discussion, not the often-reviled spinmeister or hype artist lampooned in the media.” This means, at best, PR becoming more honest and factual in their presentation of information, rather than spin. At worst, it means that the average user will increasingly find it hard to sift between what is PR and what is objective, impartial commentary. For every independent blog there will be a spin blog, or a blog that might be independent on 99 subjects but one. After a while, you’ll forget which one, and that’s when the message finds its way through.

The fourth goal Richard mentions is this: “we are certain that this tool will be useful to brand marketers and corporate reputation experts alike. Look at the corporate reputation benefits for Microsoft, GM and Boeing, all three getting praised for new openness as they initiate blogs such as Scobelizer or Randy’s Journal.” What I think this means is that companies are getting praise for setting up blogs  — although one should distinguish between Scoble and Boeing, I fear; one was a guy and a laptop, carving something out of nothing; the other was a major initiative using hired help. Richard concludes: “For brands, the blogosphere will be a unique way to solicit expert opinion, to mobilize the base of enthusiasts and to monitor worldwide trends (avian flu if you are KFC). A globalized world needs global tools and analysis.” Several different issues at play here, not all of them compatible. “Solicit expert opinion”. Does that mean listen to the bloggers who know what they’re talking about, before it becomes a big mess, a la Kryptonite? Or is “mobilize the base of enthusiasts” put out the word to people who understand its importance, or mobilize as in pass around freebies to key bloggers in the hope they’ll say nice things about your product?

Many bloggers, I believe, do a great job, even a better job than journalists in their transparency and sourcing. But that doesn’t mean the genre is settled and invulnerable to manipulation. Perhaps we’ve already hit the intersection where these potentially conflicting interests collide and merge into something new. If so, what is it? PR was invited to the conversation; they may well be the smartest people in the room, and, while old media was wringing its hands, they may have already taken the conversation over. If so, what was the topic again?

Love Is In The Air, Or At Least A Captive Audience Is

Was reading a piece in the Journal (subscription only) saying Delta Air Lines’ Song division is going to plug the CD by Better Than Ezra (a band that last had a hit 10 years ago) to passengers, a captive audience Delta have just realised they can sell anything to so long as they batter them hard enough:

Better Than Ezra released its last and only big hit (“Good”) in 1995. But the one-hit wonder from the mid-’90s is on the forefront of an odd new experiment in promoting and selling music. The group’s new album is being released by Song Records, a collaborative effort between the airline, Artemis Records and Creative Branding Group Inc., a Los Angeles marketing company.

I can hear all sorts of people groaning about this. How bad do things have to get before you try and flog an over-the-hill rock band to people trapped inside an airplane? But it also made me think more generally about airlines and the whole sound thing. Why are the sounds they use, for example, the more soothing the more danger the passengers are in? The little ‘doong’ sound that means the seat-belt sign is on — “So get back to your seat, buckle up tight, we’re about to throw you around the cabin!” Who came up with that sound? Were they all sitting around their office at Boeing or Airbus and thinking what kind of sound could we have which wouldn’t frighten the bejesus out of the passengers, but which doesn’t sound like the passenger sitting next to them snoring? Was there a guy with a xylophone in the board room playing notes and waiting for the suits to say ‘that one! That’s the one which will calm down skittish fliers and sober up the drunken ones!’ Imagine you’re hearing that sound for the first time. ‘Doong’. It sounds kinda nice. “Ooo! A surprise!” No, it means you’re going to die.

Then there’s the piped muzak. They always put this on when something bad is about to happen, when you’re about to hit turbulence, or lose altitude, or when one of the wings has fallen off. Everyone’s screaming, praying, losing their hair, and you hear ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ played on a xylophone. Malaysian Airlines, I notice, plays Elton John’s Song For Guy during these special moments. Great. Do they know it’s about Elton John’s despatch rider who was killed in a car crash?

Then there’s the safety demonstration. The attendants are always smiling when they do this. The music is always cheesy, as if to say, “in the unlikely event of this airplane not making it, we’re going to inflate these life-rafts and have a picnic. It’ll be like a party. You each get these yellow vests and disco whistles, and we’ll even turn on some party lights. Only they’ll be on the floor, which is where you’ll be spending most of your time. It’ll be fun!”

I think they should be more honest. I think the safety demonstration should scare the hell out of passengers. I think they should start with something like “There’s a nine percent chance this plane will crash, a four percent chance it won’t take off, a two percent chance the pilot is considering suicide, a 0.45 percent chance the plane will just spontaneously combust without us ever really knowing why. We’d like to show you how you can improve your chances of survival by as much as 0.06 percent by wearing a piece of rubber over your head and curling up under your seat. Now if anyone still wants to fly, please remain seated and wait for the peanuts. And here’s another track from Better than Ezra.”

Boeing’s Corporate Blog

Boeing’s Vice President of Marketing, Randy Baseler has a blog, the latest corporate guy to do so. It’s here. It’s the first Boeing blog, I’m told.