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It’s looking as if global media agency PHD Worldwide should have taken more notice of the old TV adage: “Never work with animals or children”.  

Earlier this month the firm released a video that literally made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Called “We Are The Future”, it starts with a statement, delivered by a teenager: “If you work in marketing then you’d better start upping your game, because you haven’t seen anything like us yet.”

It subsequently features lots of other teens who earnestly play a game of buzzword bingo by spouting phrases like “social graph” and “social APIs” at the beleaguered viewer, thereby making it immediately non-believable (even if, at its core, the video seems reasonably accurate about where things are heading). 

Here are a few choice snippets of things that teenagers say, apparently:

“Don’t worry, you’ll offset the cost by selling any leads to those data aggregator type companies.”

“AR apps will almost function like special skills, to help us navigate reality more effectively.”

“And you’d better get used to paying us. Our browsing, influencing and purchasing data will make some of us pretty rich.”

“Mass blocks kill brands overnight.”

“We won’t just watch your ads, we’ll expect smart tailored content based on our social graphs.”

“Social APIs and e-commerce functionality.”

Marketing Magazine thinks it’s great. I think it sucks (as do 210 people on YouTube, versus 57 who like it), but that’s not really the point. The point is, when you make a video about the future you probably don’t want to then resort to old school censorship, as PHD has been doing on YouTube following many dozens on negative comments.

The agency has received some flak on YouTube and Twitter for smiting comments left, right and centre, and in the last hour has put out a comment of its own saying that the UGC purge will now cease:

“Thank you for all your comments so far. We had deleted any highly profane or overly abusive comments (hope you understand). But we will leave everything up from now on. Please do continue to share your thoughts - negative and positive.”

Yet that comment has now been hidden due to it receiving “too many negative votes”. Who on earth is voting this one down? Perhaps by people who realise that comments are still being removed?

The thing is, while I found the video gut-wrenchingly uncomfortable to watch, PHD is stuck between a rock and a hard place with regards to some of the comments. We also delete ultra-offensive comments, and we keep a close eye on the trolls, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’m no fan of censorship, but there’s a definite balance to be found with moderation

Sensibly-written but furiously negative comments are perfectly fine. I don’t mind one bit if you disagree with me. And, personally speaking, I’m not precious about the use of profanities, though as a B2B site some of our audience might be and for that reason we may have to lose comments that include language more suited to a Derek & Clive video. Personal attacks at a playground level are kinda lame too, as they miss the point entirely. On the flipside, deleting negative comments purely based on the fact that they're negative is absolutely the wrong thing to do, whether now or in the future.

So anyway, pull up a cushion and prepare to make up your own mind... here's the video in question:

What do you think? Did PHD misjudge this? Are the negative comments a reaction to the creative, to the execution, or to the censorship? Is PHD right to delete the more offensive comments?

Chris Lake

Published 22 February, 2011 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (33)

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Password Manager

I don't think that there is too much blame to place on PHD, it's not as bad of a situation as I have come to expect from Social Media Screwups.

about 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@"Password Manager" - we also regularly delete comments from people who use desirable anchor text as their names. This is a no_follow comment area, FYI.

about 5 years ago

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Saman Mansourpour

Causing social offence is not excusable, so profanity in some part can be eliminated. However this is not a campaign by children for children.

Anything relating to like or dislike of the ad falls under freedom of speech, is a matter of opinion, and this level of censorship in social media is a disgrace.

It appears that PHD have tried to cover up the fact that not many people like their campaign. The learnings from this should be, do better work, as an agency your clients deserve that at the very least. If your clients navigated this route, then get better clients, you deserve better than that.

about 5 years ago

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Charlotte Clark

Interesting reading the video comments. I get what they were trying to achieve but I think perhaps the execution wasn't quite right. Also, I felt re-reading the script that maybe the people involved don't quite understand social media. Simply integrating e-commerce with everything won't stop brands being blocked, there can be any number of motivations for that (including creating a video starring passive-agressive children).

As for the trolling, it happens. They should focus on the positives, and just report anything completely irrelevant. And shame on those who just used it as a swear box, how is that constructive criticism?

Interesting spot Chris!

@CharlotteClark

about 5 years ago

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Alison

The fact that they put it on Youtube and seem _surprised_ by the reaction doesn't exactly fill me with confidence about their new-media wrangling abilities.

Youtube's a bearpit at the best of times: this slightly smug advert is pure honeyed bear-bait.

about 5 years ago

Mike Fantis

Mike Fantis, Head of Paid Search at Make It RainSmall Business Multi-user

Idea is on the right line to show the speed of our changing industry and how savvy the youth of today are or will be. Just wrong tactic and execution.....shame.

@mikefantis

about 5 years ago

Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi

Firstly, agree that the ad is awful.

With regards to moderation, I definitely think there is a balance, but would argue it depends where you comment. I think it's fine to moderate derogatory comments that are on your own site (your site, your rules, right?), but I think all comments are fair / acceptable on social media sites.

The whole point of social media is about freedom of expression, and brands on there are aiming to be honest, open and transparent, the very essence of being social. So, I think the rule with third-party sites should be to let it breathe and run free. Of course, you can report comments to Facebook, or flag for spam, or vote them up or down, but I think the decision to have them removed lies with the third-party site, and not the brand itself.

To use a similar example, think about TripAdvisor and Duncan Bannatyne campaigning against the site for negative reviews. The decision to remove comments in that case lies with TripAdvisor, who are arguably a lot more objective than the Bannatyne.

At the end of the day, if you have a good product, you still may get comments / negativity from the occasional troll / person having a bad day (you can't please everyone all of the time!), but it will be counteracted by positive sentiment. Consumers are becoming savvier about online reviews, and will tend to look at the bigger picture, rather than the odd, isolated negative comment.

about 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

To PHD's credit, it has published a blog post dealing with the criticism and apologised for deleting the negative (but not overly sweary) comments: http://phdworldwide.posterous.com/we-are-the-future. Moderation is a tricky game. It will be a stronger agency for the experience.

about 5 years ago

Stephen Logan

Stephen Logan, Senior Copywriter at Koozai

The advert is cringe-worthy, but the reaction seems overly extreme and a little unwarranted. It's not great, they mucked up with their comment moderation, they aren't promoting the use of hard narcotics.

There appears to be a #fail mentality online at the moment. Every day there's a new target. Whether it's a rubbish advert, controversial editorial (read Daily Mail) or an anger-inducing website, something bears the brunt of widespread condemnation which is then spread across social media. By Friday, nobody will remember PHD Worldwide or this advert.

This isn't the worst offence, deleting of comments included. Misguided, certainly, but by no means is it worthy of the mob mentality pillorying it's now receiving.

There should always be room for criticism and an awareness of creative differences. But some of the comments go above and beyond this, making it personal and profane. Like you Chris, I don't have an issue with swearing, but the level of abuse being directed at the YouTube page (and the Posterous page used to debate it http://phdworldwide.posterous.com/we-are-the-future) seems unnecessary.

Where does this all end? People deliberately flame baiting with some seriously outlandish stuff, companies too scared to engage online, mobs taking to the streets and taking direct action? It's all just a little bit excessive. Let's all calm down and accept it's a rubbish advert (of which there are thousands out there) and move on - plus, remember to never delete comments of course, always good to learn some kind of lesson from these things.

about 5 years ago

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Paolo

To be fair PHD digital team is not necessarily the brightest digital team within the media and advertising industry. Their recruitment policy is more focused on the amount of BS you can say and how fabulous you are. They really don’t care if you have a solid digital background, the most important this is added value!

about 5 years ago

Dominic Byrne

Dominic Byrne, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) at DigiToro

I don’t mind the video. It’s a good demonstration of what to expect in technical shift. Digital Direct Marketing is changing exponentially and it’s a worthy heads up.

about 5 years ago

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David Wilding

I should say 1st of all that I work for PHD...

I think this is a very balanced piece Chris, thank you and there are some very good points in the comments section too.

Clearly we failed in terms of our response to the reaction and our deleting comments strategy (if we can call it a strategy) but I can assure you this was more through misjudgement than anything more sinister. But hands up, if we make a mistake in this area we quite rightly get pulled up for it. We can only learn from this and hopefully we already have but you're right to point out that it leaves us in a difficult situation re comment moderation now.

On the execution (using kids, reading scripts, speaking 'marketing drivel') clearly this has stirred up an overwhelmingly negative reaction and with hindsight it's easy to see why. We, perhaps naively, didn't take into account that we might come across as a sinister marketing company manipulating children!

As for the concept of the video itself - an attempt to project what might happen in the future based on recent and emerging developments in tech - this is in my view perfectly legitimate (and indeed necessary)

But unfortunately perhaps, the focus on technological possibility (rather than on how people will actually want to interact with this technology - if at all - on a basic human level) contributes to an overall 'cold' feeling and a lack of authenticity.

Overall it's probably fair to say we haven't covered ourselves in glory throughout the whole thing...

about 5 years ago

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Ralf

As an employee who was working at a current client of PHD, this example prove my point that Media Agency are “rubbish at social media”, their role is just to buy media space. Talk with you PR agency for any social media activities. A Social media manager at PHD is evaluated on how many insertions he buys on Facebook or Myspace rather than strategic thinking and the conversation with fans/follower…

about 5 years ago

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Sam Miller

Hope that Sainsbury’s, BMI, Cadbury’s … will think twice before giving PHD any social media responsibilities in the future. Lol !

about 5 years ago

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Henry Elliss

"Yet that comment has now been hidden due to it receiving “too many negative votes”. Who on earth is voting this one down? Perhaps by people who realise that comments are still being removed?"

I think you're giving commenters on YouTube a little bit too much credit here, Chris! Whilst I'm sure some of them are sensible, grown-up adults, the majority of people who comment (or worse, vote - it's a lot less committed, so a lot more open to abuse) on YouTube videos are the sort of people who will happily scream "FIRST!" in the comments because they think it's "cool".

The fact that a sensible response from PHD has been voted down is most likely due to the fact that it's sensible message is ruining the fun for all the "haterz" :D

about 5 years ago

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Sonia Molina

Personally I think the overall sentiment and reaction to the ad has been a little extreme - the subject matter of the ad hardly warrants some of the comments we're seeing on youtube! But then it is a bit of a social media domino effect unfortunately...Everyone wants to play their part in the finger pointing and name and shame process. Granted it's not the best execution of a message but it's certainly got everyone talking and will definitely be memorable - maybe not for the right reasons I know, but by putting your hands up and sharing your learnings from the experience I'm sure your reputation as an agency will prevail. Come on people, we've seen a lot worse! Onwards and upwards I say...

about 5 years ago

Corrie Davidson

Corrie Davidson, Social Media Manager at Sisarina, Inc

I didn't mind the ad. I've seen this style/technique before in the US (wish I could remember the companies that have used it) which is perhaps why it didn't bother me as much as you or the other commenters.

As to the comment censorship, I understand the need to delete overly profane, unrelated, and "spam" comments. But I always advise our clients to allow both positive AND negative comments. The conversation will happen somewhere else if it has to - allowing those comments where you at least have SOME control and can publicly reply is a benefit - not a hindrance. Give your fans the power to defend you.

about 5 years ago

Julian Grainger

Julian Grainger, Director of Media Strategy at Unique Digital

Stoking discussion, particularly about the future, is a good thing. So good on PHD.

However .. I hope PHD are not out selling their expertise in online community management at the moment. It isn't the content that has failed here, it is their expertise and ability to engage audiences in closed communities like YouTube and Facebook.

about 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

Well I think the problem is that it's an ad! For an ad to be liked on social media it had better be very cool, entertaining, or very funny (and I don't mean funny ha ha your brand looks stupid).

This video is neither cool, entertaining or funny. The ideas are of interest to me but I had a negative reaction from the first "If you are in marketing, you'd better start upping your game". The tone of the voice is disturbing.

Anyway not as bad as Agency.com's Subway video :-).

about 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

@Corrie, or anyone for that matter. Would you pull a video like this if it were getting slaughtered?

about 5 years ago

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richard

In my opinion it's less about the moderation - the viral/ad/statement, whatever you want to call it is absolutely awful.

The script is so cliched - the child actors deliver it in a nauseatingly patronising way - its a load of statements that really mean nothing - i mean really it's just terrible.

PHD cant be criticised for producing the same sort of "ooh look at me" self congratulating and sanctimonious twaddle that most of the other pr, social,creative and media agencies produce. Nor can they be criticised over their attempts to moderate or not moderate it. i think they responded to a difficult situation rather well.

But whoever sat in that office and said this video is great lets post it - how can anyone watch that and not think "F*ck me this is terrible!"?

about 5 years ago

Corrie Davidson

Corrie Davidson, Social Media Manager at Sisarina, Inc

@Guy - No. I wouldn't pull it. So people don't like it - who cares. Its not profane or offensive (in the traditional sense). Look at all the attention and discussion it is generating. I had never heard of PHD before now, and in a few years when their name comes up I won't remember this video, I'll think "hmmm... they sound familiar." Win for marketers.

And honestly, I like that they owned up to the moderation, posted publicly about it, and changed their practices. They are growing and learning in the public eye - thats what social media does.

And as to the video, I wouldnt have given it a second thought if it came on TV. Like I said, this has been done EXACTLY like this before. They are making a good point - marketers need to change their mindsets - even if it does nauseate "Richard" and gets bogged down in pretentious buzz words.

And Guy, I agree its an ad! Its not funny or clever or unique - it could be selling insurance or financial advice, its unremarkable. Its not very "social media" friendly. But its not aimed at the youth of today, its aimed at the stodgy white hairs who are afraid of "the facebook". Its a wakeup call that theories, methods, and mediums WILL change. Now, whether or not PHD is the firm to handle this best or not, I have no idea. But I dont think "we" are the audience... if so, they missed the mark wholly.

But no. I wouldn't pull it.

...I would like to see their conversion rate stats though... ;)

about 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

@Corrie, I am not convinced this falls into the "bad pub equals good pub".

Kenneth Cole is fine. So he is an ass, I am still sure he makes pretty good shoes and accessories but I am not sure that PHD makes good ads, let alone knows anything about social media.

Regards target audience. I am 50 and have some gray hair (I do try and stay fit) so maybe I can talk for older people that remember typewriters. Even if I were 65 and a CEO and never used Facebook I'd probably still find this video nauseating! Anyway I'd say their demographic goes down to 40 at least.

But yes it can work for them if they own up and laugh at themselves. If I were them I'd ask the community "If you were trying to get this message across. How would you do it".

I've challenged people on our Twitter a few times that have been critical and I've replied "Great, we are totally open to learning, please tell us how we can do better". First thing that happens is they apologize for being rude and then we usually get some good feedback.

OK going to check for more gray hairs now and ask my friends if they think I am stodgy :-)

PS I think I'd pull it.

about 5 years ago

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Milly Diaz

PHD clearly ripped off the Monster.com ads (ran in the US about a decade ago) that featured kids spouting corporate lingo: http://goo.gl/Biph4

about 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

I think PHD are getting it. They are tweeting the spoofs of their videos.

Here are some of them:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGtj14ICk0E

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DnuWYjfDyQ&feature=player_embedded#at=36

about 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

By the way, talking of business lingo. What do you think of this?

Pervasive Customer Experience and How Digitally Focused CMOs Are Leading Our Revolution:
The dCMO set realizes that the focus of a company's digital strategy is to inject core business processes and a set of optimal customer behavioral attributes into a proprietary digital platform. (N.B. "Proprietary" does not mean building the platform from scratch.)
Building the right digital platform means delivering consistent customer experiences in any channel or on any device to ensure that customers are engaged with brands anywhere and at any time.

Is this norm these days? The article is about 2,000 words and just says "the best strategy is to make it easy for people to shop on different digital devices"

Read more: http://www.cmo.com/strategy/pervasive-customer-experience-how-digitally-focused-cmos-are-leading-our-revolution#ixzz1Ez54yXUJ

about 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

Update: in a matter of a couple of days the PHD vid went from 40,000 to 70,000 views. It's becoming a cult classic - so bad that it's good.

about 5 years ago

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eDahms

i'm still unsure why so many people are saying this is a garbage advert. i think you're all nuts - or you're afraid to accept that much of what's said in this video may easily become true. it doesn't matter if these children understand the lingo they're using. that's the whole point: they're using lingo WE understand in media because (<em>) none of us understand them. (</em>) people can make claims that they do, but I honestly think we're heavily underestimating what current teens will expect of media 10-15 years from now.

we're currently in a transitional state, and that's all it is. it's not groundbreaking, it's not a new generation - yet we all perceive it to be. it's an old generation trying to keep up with a new one, and it will be lapped again and again by these youngsters as they come-of-age. if you think this video is absurd and you work in media, your pink slip is already signed.

about 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

eDahms, not everyone is saying that the ideas are absurd, most are saying the delivery is absurd. The fact that this video has thousands of comments mostly with profane language in them must indicate something went horribly wrong.

On the other hand these chaps have entered the rarified air of creating a cult classic. As everyone knows, you can't intentionally create a cult classic. They are geniuses in a way.

about 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

By the way, check the numbers 130,000 today, was 40,000 when I watched this first time a few days ago.

about 5 years ago

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Robert Stevens

The problem creative agencies and their clients have is that decisions about which route or creative treatment to use is based on opinion. Millward Brown’s Link and Ipsos 360 pre-tests canvases the opinions of hundreds of people but it is still OPINION.
We have developed a methodology that replaces vagaries of opinion form the decision making process with evidence gathered form peoples subconscious reactions. I’d be very interested to get your feedback from what we have done with it here: http://thinkeyetracking.com/Blog/?p=755

about 5 years ago

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Mary

I have just seen a comment made by the boss of a social media company on his twitter that really upset me- it is disgusting making light of the 30,000 people who died in the Tsunami. You would have thought they would know better I am absolutely disgusted.

This healthcare access issue and the politics is our Tsunami #DTCN2011
1:27 PM Apr 6th via TweetDeck
http://twitter.com/wiltonbound

about 5 years ago

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Dan

I work at an agency and these sorts of employees (people who use cliche marketing jargon) are what make me considering leaving the industry.

about 4 years ago

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