The Vital Importance of Frivolity

"Rather mad, but silly things are important". So said Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy at Telco 2.0 yesterday. And he's right - we've pointed to the vital importance of frivolity before. So what if one of the biggest-selling iPhone applications makes a fart noise? It beats a ton of unsaleable PowerPoint engineering. Silly things frequently show up the things people actually find valuable, compelling, or interesting; we owe much of the broadband business and the whole of the technology of Web video, essentially, to porno Web sites, and we would know much less about scaling transactional Web applications while maintaining security if it wasn't for gambling.

Another human reflex is to whine about things; hence Fizzback, a real-time user-experience application Rory mentioned. Essentially, it invites your customers to record their impressions by SMS and routes the messages accordingly, whilst letting you keep all sorts of useful information about them. The cycle can be quick enough that someone who complained about the bus they were travelling on becoming intolerably hot actually got a call back to tell them the driver had been told to turn on the air conditioning.

It's a classic example of communications-enabled business processes; in this case, it's being used to shorten the company's OODA loop - the process of Observation, Orientation, Decision and Action through which organisations cope with their environment.

As such, it may well be a better idea than mobile advertising itself. As Rory Sutherland put it, "I can see more good mobile ad ideas than there is possible advertising to pay for. The total spend can increase, of course, but only slowly" - and it is unlikely to grow much for some time given the dreadful economic climate. The upshot? As we've said before, concentrate on improving the business processes of your customers, and remember that entirely silly ideas may be your best guide. Especially in a world where mobile devices are as much outside-broadcast units as they are TV sets, as Rory Sutherland points out.