'Keep an eye out for fashion and capture it on your Nokia camera phone. From clothes to accessories and personal style statements. Click anything you think is in vogue.'
That's an invitation from Nokia 'Eye on Fashion', which was one of the official sponsors of the Wills India Fashion Week. As brand-linked consumer promotions go, it's a good idea. But here's the problem:
1) Are the people getting clicked giving their consent?
I would think the answer is no, in many cases. And this applies especially to girls - like this one featured on page 1 of
www.nokiaeyeonfashion.com.. She appears to be simply walking down the road when one Gopal Raghuwansi clicked her on his camera phone and susequently uploaded her pic on the site.
I know this is very common. Ask any young and decent looking woman and she will tell you there are innumerable occassions when she wonders :"Is he sending a message or trying to take my picture?"
Believe me, it can creep you out, especially when the person taking the picture has *that* kind of studied casual look. The same which guys who brush past you in the bus usually have.
Of course the guy taking the pic may not have evil intentions. One young man once showed me a bunch of pics he had clicked of women, sitting in coffee shops. It was just a kind of 'timepass' - a thumb sport of sorts.
On the other hand, he could have been telling his friends 'this is my latest girlfriend' but one loser can usually smell another. I'm sure they'd know.
I don't know what the law says about this kind of photography in India, but as a company Nokia should not be encouraging it. At the very least, they should advise people who will participate in the promo on the need to get permission from the subject being clicked. It might be hidden away somewhere in the 'terms and conditions' but I could not see it.
In any case, something so important should not be hidden away in the fine print.
Also, I wonder whether the same rules apply to the 'citizen journalism' variety of photography and this kind of promo linked photography.
Today, when any kind of major news event such as the London bombings or the Mumbai train blasts occurs, some of the best pictures and videos are taken by ordinary people who happen to be there and possess camera phones. These images are often widely distributed - I'm not sure how many individuals get paid for rights. But you could argue - even if they get paid - it's a visual slice of history.
In case of a promo like 'Eye on Fashion' - that's not the case. The guy clicking the pic hopes to gain commercially - there are prizes to be won including designer clothing, Nokia 7360 or 7370 fashion phones. One lucky bum will even get a luxury handset - the 'Sirocco'.
2) The second worry is the Quality of the photos featured.
They are absolutely pathetic! Flip through the 11 pages online currently and at least 33% of the pics are self-portraits of guys wearing sunglasses. One even described himself as 'Googgles clothing'.
Other 'style statements' include a little girl in a shiny 'I want to be on Boogie Woogie' dress and a lady working in a tea garden. Frankly, the tea picker has more attitude than most of the jignes and bhaves types on the same page... All in all, not what Nokia probably had in mind when it conceived of this contest!
The other not-so-surprising fact is that the pic of the girl in pink has received 5263 views and 4946 votes. Whereas the boys on the same page mostly have votes and views in double digits. This says something about the profile of :
b) people who click camera phone pics and submit the same
Both are still predominantly male... and so lacking in style they wouldn't recognise a 'style statement' if it planted a slobbery wet kiss on their forehead!
Wheat vs chaff
The idea of 'user generated' content is a great one. And it works when you have millions and millions of people contributing such content - like at youtube.com. From a mountain of boring / mediocre trash you find a few gems and the system is designed such that users push these gems up to the top of the pile.
But when the number of users you attract is fairly low... you don't have enough gems. And the trash attracts more trash and repels people who actually have quality content. Because you haven't created an environment where the ego-driven creative types would like to showcase their work.
The problem is compounded when the site has a commercial angle. Take Sunsilk Gang of Girls. Extensively advertised, beautifully designed. But the blogs on the site? A couple are barely okay, the rest are simply not happening!
I say this not out of the haughty attitude that all blogs must be deep and meaningful. Teenage girls will write about crushes, cruel parents and pimples. But there are trendsetters and influencers who can write and express themselves well - and hook readers. Those girls are not patronising the site. And that cannot be a good thing for the brand!
So what does one do? I think you cheat a bit. Employ a few good writers to set the right tone for 'user generated' sites. Of course, what they write should not be all stiff but if you can get that 'amateurly professional' vibe you will attract more content along the same lines.
In fact I am even more convinced of the need for such a strategy, after recently covering a bunch of entrepreneurs setting up 'Web 2.0' companies in India for Businessworld magazine . These include soon to be launched social networking site yaari.com, consumer search engine onyomo.com and review site burrp.com
The Mumbai edition of Burrp has been up and running for 3 weeks now but generating those user generated reviews and reccos appears to be a very slow process! At the very least, if I were running Burrp I would hire a trainee, give him/ her a digital camera and go shoot all the restaurants being written about!
Not to undermine the importance of user participation and contribution... but from long experience with JAM I've learnt you have to tweak it and channel this raw energy to get the best possible results. In short, even user-generated sites need great editors...
I could write a lot more on this subject, and I will one day. But right now, it's time for some lunch!