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It’s a Blyk day for the industry

Sit back in your office (or arm) chairs and take a read of this week’s column by our Friday regular Ben Harvey.

Ben attempts to explain why the room full of analysts, mobile industry executives and journalists at the Blyk launch this week weren’t quite all so sure about ‘free’ — especially when they weren’t getting any.

Someone once went out – with one of those thumb-clicky counter-things that bouncers look at just before telling you that the bar’s full – and counted the number of adverts that a human walking through central London would be exposed to in the course of an hour.

1470, they counted. I hope for their sake that one of the adverts they saw was for RSI treatments, because after two clicks a second, for whole hour, their thumbs can’t’ve been in terribly good shape. I tried the same study in the 15 minutes it takes me to get to work today and you’ll be pleased to know that my own little pink prong wasn’t overworked at all, because I only saw four adverts. Four! One of those was on the side of a van which drove past me twice, and one of those was the Apple logo on the side of the iPod that I’d already bought. So only two, effectively. And they were only effective because they were Nike & Adidas logos on the rather deliciously lithe girls that bounced past me on their morning run.

I may need some RSI medication after all. My wrist is killing me.

The reason I tell all of you this is not to make excuses for the small pile of leaves & branches around my desk, which fell off me as a souvenir from my time spent lurking happily in the bushes that morning, but instead to illustrate the difficulties of advertising to some people. Humans have the most sophisticated ways to screen out things they don’t want to see, whether it be full-page adverts in a magazine or the poor sod trying to sell you the Big Issue containing those adverts in the first place.

It goes without saying that there are hundreds of thousands of people who would like it if you bought their products or bought into their message. From religions to car dealerships, from delicious oriental food to delicious oriental masseurs there’s this never-ending plethora of people, pulling at your trouser-leg with all the desperate need for attention of a toddler about to make a personal puddle.

The trouble comes from the fact that 99% of all the adverts you see are complete bollocks. Either they’re for something you don’t want, or they’re for something you can’t afford, or they’re for something that will make you fat / fatter / dead. The only ways ad agencies can get your attention is to either arouse you or offend you or impress you; impressing is difficult, because that requires talent. Offending you is difficult, because it’s a fine line to tread between shifting units and having your offices burnt down by a rampaging mob from the Family Values coalition. So they have to try and arouse you, and, to be fair, there is a long & illustrious history of fitting nobbing into adverts, although it does usually involve a lady sucking off her Flake in the bathtub.

Since we, as consumers, are increasingly dismissive of anything but Oscar-worthy adverts it’s become an ever-more frantic trade. If brands aren’t bribing farmers to get billboards stuck in fields by motorways then they’re paying some spiv £50k to have their logo tattooed on his head. And now we’ve reached the logical conclusion of this pathetically needy trade with Blyk, the “virtual” mobile-phone network that – in return for free telephone calls – will spam you with “infotainment” to basically affect a system of product-placement in the movie of your life.

I have numerous issues with this. First off, the name. Is it me, or does the whole enterprise sound like it’s South African? Eets nit a virry gid neem, es et? En fict, hits toytal sheet. So I was a little surprised to find out that the idea – and the team – is Finnish, and that the chaps behind it all seem to have parachuted out from the upper tiers of Nokia’s research & management crowd.

So, if you’re aged between 16 and 24 then, in exchange for the – seemingly arbitrary – sum of 217 free texts and 43 free minutes every month you can get yourself a Blyk SIM. Free messages! This will obviously be very enticing to the PAYG crowd, or, at least, it’ll be enticing before their goldfishesque attention-spans keep getting derailed by spam advertising. The thing is, the Blyk business-plan has been created by proven entrepreneurs, and verified by econometricians with MBAs and other impressive qualifications that I can’t understand and, some of which – being Finnish – I can’t even pronounce. And then they’ve gone and pitched this to hard-edged investment banks whose job it is to seek out idiot ideas. And they were not found wanting.

So what right have I, a bush-lurking pervert, to pour scorn on their majestic & noble endeavour, when the only even-vaguely entrepreneurial idea to ever enter my tiny little skull was “buy another scratchcard”?

Well. Put it this way. The glossy reams of junkmail that are prepared at great effort, and printed at great expense, and then poked impudently through your letterbox – when was the last time you actually bought anything from them…?

It’s a little easy to remember that the whole reason that -those six or seven long, long years ago – the entire internet industry was bought to the very brink of implosion was because everyone thought that ad-revenue would pay the bills. The sites would thrive, and the consumers would get everything free, and the advertisers would pick up all the bills – the suckers!

When was the last time you clicked on a banner-ad? When was the last time you shut-down your pop-up blocker so that you could let those nice men & women share their new products with you…? Or, alternatively, when was the last time you went apeshit because you got irritated? The prosecution rests, M’lud.

Hmmn. Maybe that’s why I’m so sure that this whole enterprise will hit the rocks very quickly. Or, you know, maybe it’s just because I’m not as young as 24 anymore, and am therefore bitter… Nevermind. It’s a lot easier to take the piss when you’re not impartial.


  1. I think this will fizzle out after the annoyance of gettin spammed quite a lot in return for not that much credit.. the after cost is also expensive!! Privacy is also another issue here , it wont even feel like ur own phone anymore imo

  2. Advertising revenue is a finite resource. To succeed Blyk must ultimately convince advertisers to divert spend from elsewhere. To fund a totally free service will require significant revenues – for which advertisers will expect a decent ROI. Sure, there can be some neat click through ads for content but are today’s (and tomorrow’s) uber-connected yoofs really going to respond more readily to their spam SMS ads than to everything else they are bombarded with.

    The 16-24 age band means that advertisers have a very specific demographic band (by age and presumably some sign-on deomgraphics: sex, postcode etc) but after that its a bit amorphous. Unlike a TV ad, advertisers dont know what their targets are watching, unlike a poster campaign they dont know where they are. Will 16 year olds get text-ads during school?

    Evolution is always characterised by the “point too far” and this feels like it to me.

    Re. the name – I’m glad it’s not just me who couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It’s as dumb as Volkswagen’s Sharan Carat

  3. I’m skeptical of the Blyk ad-supported model, too, but the overarching argument that advertising doesn’t really work and that the ad-supported content model has failed is pretty weak.

    On a purely anecdotal level, we’re all clearly buying more useless tat than we used to, and more concerned with brands and their visibility on us than ever before. We want gastropubs not the local, lattes not instant, shiny kitchens in which we don’t cook, boutique hotel bathrooms in which we use spa as a verb, and BMWs, Audis and Mercs, not Fords. In short, we’re aspirational now, and we didn’t get there on our own. Clever marketing and advertising people subtly pushed us to be this way, and the genius in a way is that they’ve done so while tolerating with patient amusement our bold pronouncements about advertising not working.

    Really that’s why Blyk is unlikely to work, because it’s just too obvious and the really clever stuff is happening at the other end of the spectrum. For example, don’t be dumb enough to serve kids ads asking them which celebrity they most resemble or aspire to; instead support the creation of actual content in which celebrity and product are so tightly bound together that it’s impossible to tell when the ad ends and the story begins.

    And on a more analytical level, outside of the tiny bit of the world that is purely about technology, brands equate to value exponentially more than they used to. Again, that didn’t just happen organically, and those who are suggesting we’re close to a consumer breaking point with regard to tolerance for advertising are, I think, missing the point.

    There, seems like all of a sudden I’m retreating from all this technology stuff and back to my roots as a marketing and ad guy.


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