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Sophie Morris: 'Today' viral gets lost in transmission

Thursday 12 March 2009 01:00 GMT

The Today programme's bullish presenters trade on making listeners' eyes pop over tea and toast and morning tempers. They certainly had me yesterday when Jim Naughtie announced that the team had made a viral ad and put it up on YouTube.

The technological heel-draggers are trying to amuse fans with an Office-style clip sending up John Humphrys, Jim Naughtie, Evan Davis and their massive egos. The "fickle bunch" is introduced in the clip by a fictional hair, make-up and costumes assistant. She might as well have opened with: "You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps." "Inside Today", as it's called, is as embarrassing as finding out your dad's got a Twitter account.

"We've created a, a sort of a virus," announced Naughtie. Oh to have been a fly on the wall at the Today brainstorming session while they worked out how to explain this new-fangled virtual concept to listeners in a 15-second radio script, when it really required a number of editorial away days and a countrywide show-and-tell session.

"It's a viral video for this programme," went on Naughtie. "Just to see how far and how fast such a thing – these things exist on the internet – can travel across the web."

Wonderful delivery as per Jim, but may I set you straight about the viral bit? A viral is a marketing tool whereby an advert is disseminated online via a bottom-up distribution model. A virtual marketing Ponzi scheme if you will, though no one stands to lose their life savings.

The point of advertising this way is that the responsibility to approve or reject an ad lies with the users and not with madmen and ad schedulers. When someone finds something they like online, they forward it on to friends and lovers etc. Within a matter of hours the best virals are viewed by thousands of people from Tetbury to Taiwan, possibly via Timbuktu. A "buzz" is created and, if the viral strikes the right note, whatever product it is advertising benefits forthwith.

Virals usually go for an edgy, bizarre or utterly oblique approach, often not even mentioning the product they are plugging. The point is to pique people's interest. More important though is the feeling you are laughing at something created by you and your mates. You didn't produce the ad, but you found it and mutually concurred to its hilarity. It is your special in-joke. And no one, absolutely no one, invites Today presenters to share their private in-jokes.

The main problem with the Today viral, apart from the glimpse of Naughtie's moobs, is the fact he announced its existence on the BBC to more than six million listeners. This is known as top-down distribution. It's the sort of prime-time plug that firms pay big money for, and which the BBC gets for free across its many cross-pollinating platforms.

All things considered the BBC has made a risible mash-up of this attempt to explain virals to their listeners, cast their presenters in a comic light and prod Today's profile a little further.

Ed Stourton, soon to be replaced by Justin Webb, was absent from the clip. Maybe his ego wasn't large enough, but he had a lucky escape. The rest of us, on the other hand, have not. How am I supposed to get to sleep at night knowing, as I now do, that I will wake up to the voice of Jim Naughtie, sat in Broadcasting House wearing a small white thong?

Your school days were over a long time ago, Madge

I spent a good 10 minutes laughing at a picture of Madonna dressed as a schoolgirl before realising that she was en route to a fancy dress party. It is too easy to believe that Madge would choose to dress as Britney without a shred of irony.

To be fair, she's stepped out in more cringe-making wardrobe incarnations, but I wish she'd lie low for a while. Her 22-year-old Brazilian beau aside, the material girl is trampling all over the memories of women my age who grew up thinking we could find everything we needed to know about love in the lyrics of "Lucky Star" and that someday we'd be whisked off to our very own "Isla Bonita".

Discovering it's all about six-hour work-outs and hokey religions is a colossal letdown.

Cheap fashion tips? Not in 'Vogue', thanks

I had a small panic last week when the delivery of Vogue was held up for a number of days. Surely the high fashion bible of dreams wasn't the latest victim of the credit crunch? Most of the glossy mags have been weighing in several ounces lighter than usual in recent months owing to the slump in advertising, something readers appreciate and editors dread.

Thankfully it showed up on Tuesday as glossy and heavy as ever, with 17 pages of beaming advertisements before the contents page, and another seven before the editor's letter from Alexandra Shulman.

Shulman recalled her love of Vogue's regular "More Dash Than Cash" feature when she was an impoverished teenager, with not a designer freebie in sight. She announced a temporary revival of the feature in a nod to our desperate times, alongside " Vogue's 40 Tips for Fabulous Frugality", and I dashed through the magazine to find said articles.

£185 jeans anyone – in pink animal print? A £485 dress? I was beginning to worry that Vogue was relinquishing its pole position as style arbiter and about to start championing cheap fashion, but these picks and the tips for thrift chic reassured me that all is well.

"Commission a good seamstress to alter your mother's vintage Chanel jacket to spring's new cropped length" is one favourite.

"Slice of the bottom off last summer's maxidress and use the offcuts as a beach turban" also tickles me pink.

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