Dr Martens has launched a new website at freedm2.com through Saatchi Interactive. The site aims to increase engagement with customers using a range of multimedia interactions and ‘social’ elements, such as creating and sharing videos and music.

But it is all in Flash, you can’t buy shoes, and the registration doesn’t seem to work…

Have a look at Dr Marten’s latest online offering at freedm2.com. I don’t think you can deny that Saatchi Interactive have beautifully executed some photography and Flash work. (I couldn’t register but may be I’m being a stupid user somehow)

But I do have some concerns:

All Flash, Only Flash, and nothing but Flash?

Of course you can do great things with Flash. And this site shows the creative opportunities in many ways. But equally we know the challenges not just in accessibility but for search engine rankings.

I’m a little surprised, particularly given the recent River Island accessibility debacle (see River Island’s “To our disabled customers: an apology”), that there appears not to be even the slightest nod towards considering these issues.

Looking at Saatchi Interactive’s site it too is clearly Flash-dominated. And as a result you can’t find it on Google at all, and the few pages that are indexed by Google are from an older version of the site which was a modicum more accessible.

The message I’m hearing from advertising agencies is that they really don’t care about accessibility (or SEO).

(Try navigating around the freedm2.com site for a bit and then hit the back button. Yikes, you’ve left the site completely…)

Can’t buy shoes online?

Why aren’t Dr Martens selling their shoes online? Saatchi’s MD, Neil Hughston, says “we’re not looking to sell products right now, we’re looking to engage likeminded people. Over time we’ll look at measuring how brand perception has changed…”

Sounds like some pretty tough and accountable ROI metrics there then.

I only hope Dr Marten are not selling online because they think people won’t buy their products online. Because that’s clearly lunatic thinking.

I can only assume it is because of commercial “channel conflict” issues, or because of systems / infrastructure issues. I guess it’s like Diesel starting off selling online and then stopping? Presumably it’s to drive store sales and keep their retailers happy?

Even this seems to me to be increasingly outdated thinking. And it certainly isn’t customer-centric. People want to give you money online for your shoes – please can we?

Can’t buy shoes but do you buy the brand argument?

So brands have decided to get into “social networking” and “engagement” and create their own little branded myspaces?

I totally buy the need for better, and different, forms of customer engagement, but I don’t think brands can directly “host” and own these spaces. Community does not come from the top down. A brand can’t enforce it.

Brands should stick to facilitating community. I don’t want to come to your party, but you can sponsor the drinks at our party if you want.

Michael Nutley, NMA Editor, wrote recently “All the evidence suggests that the most customers want is for brands to facilitate their community and stay out of the way.”

I agree.

My feeling is that this site is beautiful but flawed in a number of ways. But maybe I’m just too old these days, just not cool enough (don’t think I ever was, actually, though I have owned plenty of Dr Martens in the past)…?

What do you think?

Ashley Friedlein