Herostratic Fame


On this day in 365 BCE the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was destroyed.  It was burned down by an arsonist named Herostratus.

He committed this heinous act in a bid to become immortally famous.

The temple was located in Ephesus (now Efes) in Ionian Greece (now part of Modern Turkey) .  The Ephesians sentenced Herostratus to death, but also passed a greater sentence on him.  They forbade anyone to use is name, on pain of death.  Their intention was to prevent him achieving the very thing that he sought.

Unfortunately the story was recorded by historians and Herostratus won out in the end.  Herostratic fame is “Fame acquired by destructive means”.

In modern society we see many examples.  School shooters are a prime example.  People like Mark David Chapman, who murdered John Lennon and said “The result would be that I would be famous; the result would be that my life would change and I would receive a tremendous amount of attention”.

Terrorism organisations have learned that they can gain notoriety through herostratic acts such that a small terror cell can dominate global media.  ISIS, Al Qaida, Hammas, Hezbollah etc all leverage this dynamic in the Middle East.

Since the destruction of the Temple of Artemis the greatest Herostratic act was the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City on 9/11.

Ground Zero

To live forever – die young

The young are forgiven their flaws and their faults.  They are not so set in their ways that their little foibles become annoying.  Those who die young are enveloped in a halo of perfect innocence, good intention and idealism.  And young is a relative term, it applies to John F Kennedy, Gaius Julius Caesar and John Lennon.  You can have a fairly illustrious career and still manage to die young.

Achilles, Kurt Cobain, Kevin Barry, Che Guevara, Micheal Collins all died still wearing their halo. We wonder what Martin Luther King Jr and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart might have achieved had they only lived longer.   Agamemnon, Paul McCartney, Fidel Castro, Adolf Hitler and Eamon DeValera hung on too long and lost that shine of wonder.  We feel we heard all the words that Dickens had to write, and all the songs that Sinatra had to sing, but Elvis, maybe he had another few left!  You have to know when to bow out.

Even a withdrawal from public life can serve in the place of an early death.  Harper Lee, JD Salinger and Marcel Proust all did a “Greta Garbo” and sealed their youthful fame in the mystery of recluse.

To be really famous you have to be scarce!

To an Athlete Dying Young: by A E Housman

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

Alex from Target


I said it before in my blog post called “Public Taste”, people are strange and the internet is a funny place.  This picture of a kid packing bags was posted, supposedly on Tumblr.  It was forwarded by a guy on Twitter @auscalum and just went crazy viral.

In a 12 hour period from last Sunday the meme went ballistic.  By Sunday evening Alex realised that he was famous.  @auscalum has come under attack from people who hate what he posted, and won plaudits from those who love the meme.  Teenage girls seem particularly into Alex from Target.

He was invited onto the Ellen DeGeneres show.

A marketing company (I refuse to reward them by giving their name) claimed they invented the meme.  When challenged they changed the story to say they had promoted the meme amongst teen fan girls.  They claimed to have done this to show their ability to sell this service.  They can’t seem to back up this claim with hard stats.  It all looks like jumping on the bandwagon.

Various advertisers are using the meme to promote themselves for Christmas. Target has operated in a remarkably subtle way, having the sense to let the meme do the work without them running the risk of making a mistake by engaging in a trend they don’t understand.  Other companies are trying to promote hot young guys who work for them “me too, me too”.  You can buy an Alex from Target outfit, there will probably be an action figure if this continues.

For many it is a joke, for others a marketing opportunity, some seek fame through association (you can even accuse me of that!) and the haters use it as an excuse to be rude and nasty to complete strangers.  Welcome to the weird and wonderful Internet!

Alex from Target needs to move very fast to harness the opportunity.  He can be anything in the next four weeks, rockstar, author, vlog superstar, pointless celebrity.  Being an internet meme is like finding a seam of gold in your back garden when you are planting flowers.  You don’t just cover it over and forget it is there.  Astoundingly his approach on the Ellen show?  “Just let me pack bags and finish school!”  Carpe Diem Alex from Target, grasp that opportunity! Hire an agent.  You will never see another opportunity like this one.  You won’t be called to the dinner table twice.

And @auscalum, you need to do the same!

Fame is a fickle food; by Emily Dickinson

Fame is a fickle food
Upon a shifting plate
Whose table once a
Guest but not
The second time is set.

Whose crumbs the crows inspect
And with ironic caw
Flap past it to the Farmer’s Corn –
Men eat of it and die.


Are Implicit Rewards killing your online community?

Walk of Fame

An online content manager who does not understand all the reward systems at play can lose control of the forum and the commercial focus.  Lose focus and lose the client.

We all dream of setting up that killer online community for a client.  Cold customers wander in, discuss some things in the forum, suddenly realise how great the client product is and become brand ambassadors.  It’s a nice dream, and if only life were that simple.

In truth if a forum is too product focused it turns away the kind of people who spend a lot of time in forums.  If it is not product focused at all then there is no benefit to the client.  Getting the balance right is certainly a challenge.

In order to get contributors to enter the forum, and to post to it, you must reward them.  There are two types of reward systems, Explicit Rewards and Implicit Rewards.

Explicit Rewards are the ones we set up with our client.  They can be things with monetary value like competition prizes, promotions, coupons etc.  They can also be non-monetary rewards that we set up on the forum.  Best post of the week.  Top contributor.  Bronze/Silver/Gold star member.

Implicit Rewards are harder to identify and measure.  In general what implicit rewards lead to is fame.  You need to know what it is that generates likes, shares, helpful votes etc for posts on your site.  What is the dynamic at play, and what does this say about your site and your product?

For illustration I use two examples, Amazon books and TripAdvisor Accomodation/Restaurants.

Book lovers are always looking for their next read.  I am a “heavy user” of books so I know exactly what I am talking about here.  If I am finishing a book and don’t have the next one lined up I begin to feel exposed, nervous, itchy.  Many heavy readers maintain a TBR “Pile”  literally a stack of 5 to 10 books in the corner of a room lined up ready to be read.  Feeding the TBR pile is an important activity.

Book lovers are very interested in recommendations from other book lovers.  For this reason Amazon is a gem.  You can get lots of recommendations on books from people who like the kind of books that you like.  If I read a positive recommendation for a book and decide to buy it I will give a “like” to the recommendation.  If someone writes a negative book review I may avoid that book, but I am unlikely to “like” the recommendation.

The implicit reward system at play amongst Amazon.Com reviewers is that you achieve more “Fame” from positive reviews than you do for negative ones.  Reviewing is a competition.  There are lots of reviewers out there who want to be in the “Top 100” or “Top 1000” reviewer list.  The ranking is explicit.  How you improve your ranking is implicit.  Competitive reviewers who are out for glory quickly learn to review only in a positive way.  This is not bad for Amazon.  More positive reviews will generate more book sales.

TripAdvisor is different.  There is a tradition in the media of writing colourful scathing reviews of bad holiday or dining experiences.  There is pleasure to be derived from reading a truly awful restaurant review in your Sunday Newspaper from the comfort of your couch, with your coffee in your hand.  It is a form of entertainment which has leaked onto TripAdvisor.

There is an old customer service maxim that a satisfied customer will tell 3 friends and a dissatisfied one will tell 20.  TripAdvisor has become a sounding bell for dissatisfied customers.  As they depart a hotel in anger at the service level, or the food quality, you will often hear them fire their Parthian Shot.  “I’m going to put this on TripAdvisor”.

The implicit reward system for TripAdvisor is inherently negative.  The more negative your review, and the more colourfully you express the experience, the greater is your level of attention.  Fame comes from being nasty.  TripAdvisor is not a hotel or a restaurant.  They do not suffer from a poor review.  If anything it attracts more users to the site.  If you are booking your annual holiday you want to peek behind the curtain of the hotel you are staying in to see if the worst is acceptable to you.  Also Forewarned is Forearmed.  You can avoid the noisy room beside the elevator, or the one above the nightclub.

When you are setting up your own discussion forum you need to understand the implicit mechanisms at play.  How do your contributors become famous on your site?  What does this do to, or say about your product?

Copyright D. Clancy (2014)

Donal Clancy is a digital strategist and communications planner.  He set up Ireland’s first postgraduate University course in Digital Marketing in DCU.


Public Taste


There is no accounting for public taste.  PT Barnum famously said that nobody ever lost money by UNDERESTIMATING public taste.  Spend an hour trolling what is hot and what is not on the internet and you rapidly gain an appreciation for the breadth of the church that is “popularity”.  The prevalence of cat videos consistently astounds me.  There is an entire race of people out there who seem to spend every waking moment following cats around with a video camera looking for the next YouTube sensation.

From time to time something pops up that really piques my interest.  I have heard of the women who fall in love with death row inmates, or who marry mass murderers who are in prison for life.  There is something about a dangerous man that flips an attraction switch for some women.  So I guess this story should come as no surprise:  http://fox40.com/2014/06/18/4-arrested-in-operation-ceasefire-sweep/

A police mugshot of a good looking guy goes viral.  Good looking and clearly dangerous when you consider the context, the prison tattoos and the scar over his eye.  But contrast this with the teardrop tattoo, the sensitive lips and the deep penetrating eyes.  Obviously a guy with a very sensitive side (go on, admit it) who brings out the mothering instinct in many women, and the messiah instinct in others.  You know, that instinct to save him from the inevitable wreck that is life is going to be.

What this guy needs now is a good agent, a PR guru.  A ghost writer to pen the “autobiography” so we can share the pains, trials and tribulations of his back story.  He needs a stylist to dress him for the trial, really bring up those qualities that the head shot captures.  Give him a voice to go with the looks.  Then before you know it we can get him on Ellen, Oprah, Letterman, Leno.  Option the movie. Release a hip-hop album.  A line of clothing.  Sports shoes.  A fragrance.  Lets harness these 15 minutes people!

On Fame; by John Keats

FAME, like a wayward girl, will still be coy
To those who woo her with too slavish knees,
But makes surrender to some thoughtless boy,
And dotes the more upon a heart at ease;
She is a Gipsey,—will not speak to those
Who have not learnt to be content without her;
A Jilt, whose ear was never whisper’d close,
Who thinks they scandal her who talk about her;
A very Gipsey is she, Nilus-born,
Sister-in-law to jealous Potiphar;
Ye love-sick Bards! repay her scorn for scorn;
Ye Artists lovelorn! madmen that ye are!
Make your best bow to her and bid adieu,
Then, if she likes it, she will follow you.