Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bad PR?

hi there

i am a touch reluctant to do this post, if i am honest. it's quite possible that i shall stand accused of "having a whine". well, i suppose so be it then if that's the case, but something that has been hyped up recently strikes me as being a spectacular failure, and thus i felt it was worth a mention.

for quite a few weeks here Highveld Radio, one of the better and certainly more popular radio stations here, had been running promo ads for a "brand new, first of its kind" type of radio contest. as Highveld have been rather good and generous with their contests in the past (hence their popularity, i suppose), it was with interest that i kept an ear out for what it was. as it turns out, it is something called Gotcha!, run in conjunction with or if you will sponsored by VodaCom, a cell (mobile) phone provider for which there seems to be little love.

the contest itself sounded rather good up front. people with a "smart phone" needed to download the game, or if you will "app", to play. once installed, every day a random amount of virtual money would be dropped in a random location in the Highveld broadcast area every day. if you were the closest to it, you picked it up and basically drove around. where you are is on the "game map", and if someone gets within a certain distance of you they "snatch" the virtual money and then it is their turn to drive around. the person holding the virtual money when time is called on the game wins it in real terms. sort of a bit like a 21st Century variant of the "Bomb Tag" game on a network session of Carmageddon, then, except with no blowing up and some cash.

all invovled, in particular VodaCom, were rather proud of this game being unleashed. Vodacom’s managing executive of marketing, someone of the ace name of Enzo Scarcella, states for the record that “The Gotcha! SA Competition speaks volumes about the level of smartphone adoption in the country, the sophistication of our mobile networks, and how readily we’ve embraced social media. More importantly, it’s the first concrete example of how technology is changing the way South Africans interact with traditional mass media.”

erm, yeah, OK. this would be true if it were not for the problems experienced thus far. one of the main "smart phones" that VodaCom have spread out across the country is the very same model of blueberry (or whatever colour it is), the (i think) 8520 model or something. it is by some distance the most common smartphone that has been "adopted" here, as VodaCom's records would surely reflect. strange, then, that this game has been devised and created in such a way that it excludes this particular model of phone!

bascially, VodaCom then have spent a great deal of money, put up a good deal of prize money and gone to great lengths to market a promotion that excludes a significant percentage of their own customers. nice going - nothing creates goodwill more than a company saying "well, that smartphone we sold you isn't all that smart, as it happens".

it's not that i entered or even tried to enter the contest, by the way - this is as was reported on the Highveld station, presumably in response to complaints from listeners who had what was, as far as they were concerned, a "smartphone" and yet could not get the thing to work.

exactly how many people have bothered to download and play this game / app is a bit hard to say. the only figure i have heard is that at one point 462 people were playing it. let me see, how do i put that number into some sort of perspective? let's start with the radio station. Highveld broadcasts to an area that covers millions of people. it is one of the most popular radio stations for people working in Gauteng (or if you will Transvaal, if you are reading Mr Granville), so it's fair to say that they have a listening figures measured in at least the tens of thousands, quite possibly into the lower hundreds of thousands. VodaCom also have a fair few of the 10 million "smart phone" users in South Africa on their books, a lot of them living within the game "space". and from that 462 people were invovled?

there's a case to suggest, then, that it would have been easier just to simply give 462 VodaCom customers R865 each instead of having all R400,000.00 up for grabs. it would certainly have made Primedia, the owners of the Highveld radio station, look a lot less foolish. a spokesperson suggested that this is a "city of screenwatchers", with most if not all of us "constantly glued to the screens of our smart phones". erm, no. either Highveld's listening figures are really, really low, or we don't all sit looking at our screens. either way, Primedia are looking a touch silly at this stage.

things do not get any better at all when one has a look at those actually playing this game, either. full credit, before i start, to Highveld and their best (by some distance) DJ Alex Jay for their honesty in reporting this, even if it was as an effort to stop people doing it. of the (as highlighted) rather small percentage of people playing this, a smaller percentage still seem to have invented some interesting rules, or if you will means to cheat. one person was reported to be driving around and throwing stones at cars that got too close, presumably in the hope of stopping them "snatching" the virtual money. in another case, perhaps of great alarm, it was reported that an on duty police officer was holding the virtual money, and had simply turned on his blue lights and sirens to drive around, thus making it impossible to catch him. both of these were reported on Highveld yesterday, so i guess you have to accept that they are real incidents.

it has to be asked, does either company involved in this really need the bad PR from that last bit in the light of so few people bothering to engage in this game? all i can see with this thing is a classic example of how just because technology exists that allows you to do something doesn't mean that you should go ahead and do it. it looks like very bad research results landed this contest and no one stopped to think of any negative side to it.

i would imagine the biggest result of this, other than a handful of people pocketing an awful lot of money, will be that cell phone companies shall stick to just giving away shiny things to clients and sponsoring events, whereas radio stations would be wise to run contests that they have a more direct control over, requiring participants to phone or e-mail in. once this first version of Gotcha! has finished, i shall be amazed if we ever see it or anything similar to it being launched again.

i'd like to think this is not so much a whine but rather a lesson in not thinking things through. feel free to disagree, but thanks for reading.

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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