On being LiveGuy
24th February 2009
Wotcha. All well? What was that? Your pet pig died? I never knew you had a pet pig. My thoughts are with you at this difficult time.
My dear friends: stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, silence the pianos, make yourself a nice cuppa, put your feet up and let me tell you about my experience of being ‘Vodafone LiveGuy’.
For those of you who come to this fresh, for two weeks in November 2008 I travelled around the country under an assumed name (‘LiveGuy’) on behalf of Vodafone, posting clues on a website for people to find me. The clues took the form of blogs, tweets (via Twitter), Facebook messages, video entries and photos. Those that did find me – and this wasn’t impossible based on the clues and the big red jacket I was wearing with ‘I’m LiveGuy’ emblazoned on the back – won a free mini laptop with mobile broadband by Vodafone. This was Vodafone’s new offering and I was the face of the advertising campaign.
Pretty exciting, huh? And daunting. In fact one of my coping mechanisms (apart from laying off the booze) was to ignore all the media and web presence concerning the campaign until it was over – and there was quite a bit of it. This was because unlike traditional advertising campaigns-of-old ‘LiveGuy’ was promoted almost entirely online. Integral to the campaign was its seeding within the tech-blogging community – targeting the people who blog/chat/tweet about the latest technical innovations. In that sense ‘LiveGuy’ – and his product offering – was right up their street. And so it proved.
A Short Interlude
For swanking purposes (no, I said swanking) here’s a short skit I appeared in with Lewis Hamilton…
In professional terms ‘LiveGuy’ was the most exciting project I’ve ever been involved in. It was exhausting, intense and a brilliant laugh. Coming up with witticisms, taking photos, writing blogs and being a general tease are all things I enjoy. I got to see 11 of the UK’s biggest cities in 12 days, meet interesting people, travel around the country with a top chap from the advertising agency and do things I wouldn’t normally do like get up early, wear red, get chased down alleyways and appear on the radio. It was a pleasure and a privilege.
People often ask how I got the gig. The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is by knowing someone. In this case a friend of mine who works at the ad agency put me in touch with the head of copywriting. We met and she said she’d keep me in mind for future projects. Beyond that, it seems that the writing of this blog (not this blog, obviously, but my blog in general) helped me land the role. That and my good looks.
In December I met up with my Fairly Godmother. She seemed rather taken with the story of LiveGuy and asked me to write an essay about the experience for the magazine she works for. I won’t go into detail about the mag. It doesn’t fit with my political viewpoint but it was flattering to be commissioned, however loosely. HOWEVER when I finished it, though professing to enjoy the essay muchly, she said she didn’t think it was the sort of piece her editor would publish. Which does beg the question: why did she ask me in the first place. Still, I have no complaints (apart from the one I just made) since without her request I may never have committed to paper the story of LiveGuy.
So here it is ladies and gents. For those of you who prefer pictures and videos, there are pictures and videos, too:
Confessions of a Man on the Run
In September of last year an email from a London advertising agency popped unexpectedly into my inbox. “I understand you came in to see us in the summer and met with the Head of Copywriting. We have been asked by one of our clients to engage with a creative writer for a high profile brief that will include travelling, experiencing new things and updating a blog.” Four weeks of silence followed. I assumed the whole thing was off until out of the blue the agency contacted me again and asked me to come and meet them as a matter of some urgency.
If you are of a certain age, or even if you are not, you may have heard of Lobby Lud; Lud was a fictional character created in the 1920s by the now defunct Westminster Gazette as a promotional tool to sell newspapers. Anonymous employees of the Gazette would visit seaside resorts and the newspaper would print details of the town, a description of the appearance of that day’s ‘Lobby Lud’, and the pass phrase – most likely “You are Lobby Lud and I claim my prize.” The prizes were not to be sniffed at: according to a 1935 advertisement directing readers to Lowestoft, “£10 could be won in the morning and £10 in the afternoon” – enough to feed a family of four for two weeks. Anyone carrying a copy of the newspaper could challenge ‘Lobby Lud’ with the appropriate phrase and receive the sum of money. Lud fever became so intense that a special train service, the ‘Lobby Lud Express’, was run to take Londoners to the resorts visited by Lud. After the Westminster Gazette went out of business the News Chronicle (later the Daily Mail) and the Daily Mirror ran similar schemes, the Mirror’s version featuring a character called ‘Chalkie White’. A Lud-esque character, Kolley Kibber, was even used as a plot device in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock.
I met with the agency. It seemed they wanted to drag the old fashioned notion of Lobby Lud into the 21st century. Whilst the basic premise would remain, there were a number of key differences: the campaign would be seeded not in the press but on the internet; rather than shifting newspapers the focus of the campaign was the promotion of a miniature laptop with mobile broadband powered by the agency’s client. As for me, instead of hanging around seaside resorts in a three piece suit with a newspaper tucked under my arm, I was to wear a bright red jacket and remain constantly on the move whilst writing blogs, taking photographs and recording video diaries, all of which would be uploaded directly onto the internet to serve as clues for those playing the game. My assumed identity would be that of ‘LiveGuy’ and my mission, which I chose to accept, was to undertake a tour of the country, visiting 11 major cities in 12 days. Those who found me and uttered the phrase, “you are LiveGuy and I am a winner”, would secure themselves one of the laptops in question, known as a netbook. As with the original Lud, in the absence of a morning winner the campaign rolled over into the afternoon. This was more than mere mimicry; this was homage. The principal difference was that where Lobby Lud of old would loiter conspicuously, I was to remain elusive.
The campaign kicked off on Monday 17th November, in Edinburgh. Had enough people heard about LiveGuy through the internet? Would people bother to leave work to track me down? And knowing that I would be walking round with a laptop, was I in any physical danger? The night before I had trawled the web and found an interview with one of the Daily Mirror’s last known Chalky Whites. Chalky White 1980 had been punched by disgruntled losers, swept into the sea at Hastings and reported to the Press Council for allegedly giving money to the wrong person.
At 9am I was dropped off outside the birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell. I took a photograph and retired to a local fast food outlet to upload the image and write a few words. Shortly afterwards I walked down to the Princes Street Gardens below Edinburgh Castle and took a snap of a commemorative stone to Robert Louis Stevenson before heading to a café near the station. By this time the wind was picking up and the rain beating down; hardly the weather to go traipsing round the streets of Edinburgh looking for a man in a red jacket. By lunchtime I had moved onto the Old Town and not a single person had approached me. Perhaps this was to be my lot for the next two weeks; pinging blogs and witticism off into cyberspace that no one would read. Then, of course, it happened: not once, not twice but thrice in the space of five minutes. The campaign had its first winners.
I even had to say no to the third man who had come haring up the Royal Mile towards me. “Sorry,” I said. “The next netbook isn’t available until 3…” “But I’ve run all the way from Leith!” he exclaimed, red faced, before sloping off down the hill and back to work.
Thus began the most hectic two weeks of my life. From day two, rather than feeling pleased when approached by a member of the public – an indicator that the campaign was working – I became focussed on remaining elusive. This was not about the promotion of a brand new product, I reasoned, but a personal battle between myself and the inhabitants of whichever city I happened to be in at the time. My life took on a surreal edge. My usual routine of sitting quietly at my desk seeking inspiration receded into the background; my time was now spent dashing round city centres, hiding behind walls, running down side streets and scuttling along back alleys interspersed with regular visits to cafes where I would sit low in my chair, turning my distinctive red coat inside out.
In Manchester I was followed by a young couple who made it clear they would trail me until the next netbook became available, at midday. I walked up Deansgate and into a coffee shop. They did the same. I promptly left and at a brisk pace walked down Deansgate. They followed me. I dove into another coffee shop to post a few clues regarding my next location – Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, site of the seminal Sex Pistols Gig of 1976 – then set off again. The lady dropped off the pace but the young man stayed close. It was now 11:55: in five minutes the next netbook would be his. I started running. He did the same. I hung a sharp left and began sprinting. He did likewise. He was young. I was out of breath. “You shouldn’t offer free stuff to students,” he said, taunting me. This had become personal. It was now 11:58am. There was nothing else for it: I hailed a cab.
How pleased I was with myself as I reclined in the backseat. Hubris quickly got the better of me, however, as I lost my bearings and directed the taxi round in a circle. This I only realised as I alighted next to a coffee shop. As I did so I saw the couple in question lurking on the other side of the road. I dashed into the coffee shop, ducked into the bathroom, locked the door and wrote a blog outlining what I have just described to you. There were two knocks on the door, then after ten minutes someone turned out the light.
I felt like a spy or someone appearing in their very own video game. It was exhilarating and I was caught up in the thrill of the chase; a game of cat and mouse played out on the streets of the UK. There were car chases in Bristol, verbal abuse in Cardiff and a near dust-up outside 221b Baker Street. At one point myself and my co-driver from the agency had to follow a taxi from another cab to retrieve the GPS devices we had left in there and were tracking on the website as we pursued it through West London. I also got to indulge some of my own interests: the birthplaces of Tony Hancock, Roald Dahl and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; the Manchester music scene; the pre-Raphaelites of Birmingham; football and cricket grounds abound and countless bridges, monuments and places of historical interest.
So what did I learn from whistle stop tour of the UK? That a bowl of porridge in the morning is far more sustaining than a cooked breakfast; that to remain teetotal is the best route to hard work; that laughter is the best medicine; that one can survive for two weeks without a single green vegetable passing one’s lips; that despite my concerns I didn’t succumb to writer’s block; that the state of the toilets in one of Britain’s best known coffee outlets is an absolute disgrace; that urban regeneration has transformed the landscape of the country in the last ten years; that the people of Britain are almost without exception eager to please; that, natch, people love something for nothing; and that young couples outside London use coffee shops in the daytime to kiss, cuddle and canoodle and in a manner that would make your granny choke on her skinny latte.
“People think it’s a cushy job,” said the 1980 incarnation of Lobby Lud, “but sometimes I hate it. You get this terrible sense of paranoia. Everywhere you go, you think everyone’s looking at you.” I enjoyed my time as a modern day Lobby Lud but by the end of the campaign I understood what Mr Lud 1980 was talking about: for days afterwards, if I saw a car pull up close by or spotted someone running in my general direction, my first instinct was to hide. This, though, soon fell away. In the end all that remained were the memories of writing, running, laughing and drinking coffee, more coffee than you would think possible, coupled with a humility at having had the chance to continue a long-standing British tradition. Lobby Luds of the 20th century – wherever you are – I salute you.
Hope you enjoyed that. It was fairly long so if you’re still here you’re doing well. Your prize, below, is LiveGuy’s valedictory speech. Or should I say song: