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Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Vuvuzelas, Youtube, and the new PR

in: Communicate, Standing out

Public relations is a tricky game. For a long time, PR has been about shaping a message — getting the words just so, tugging on an audience’s heartstrings. But shaping a message is changing dramatically in today’s more connected, more transparent world, and I can think of no better demonstration of this than the Vuvuzela button in Youtube.

In the unlikely event that you haven’t yet heard of this nefarious noisemaker, here are the facts: it’s loud; it’s indigenous to African sporting events; and it’s droned so loudly at every World Cup match this year that programmers have built custom filters that remove its sound from games, and many fans have called for its abolishment.

So Google put a Vuvuzela button in Youtube.

Not, as you might expect, to filter it out. Instead, the button adds the unmistakeable droning to any video clip for which it’s enabled.

Changing Youtube isn’t something that’s done lightly. For one thing, every time Google changes the Youtube interface, millions of visitors’ browsers need to re-download its components, generating a flood of new traffic that would otherwise be cached in browsers if the interface hadn’t changed. That Flash plug-in is 132.61 KBytes, and Quantcast estimates Youtube receives around 100M unique visitors a month.

Bandwidth consumption aside, as every good web operator knows, changes are bad simply because they break things. There’s also testing to consider. Google probably has clever ways to minimize the impact of new components, but however you slice it, changes to a popular part of the UI cost the company money.

What’s more, this is a feature with no real utility. It’s an annoyance, a trick, a novelty. It doesn’t add anything to the viewing experience — in fact, it outright ruins it.

As a marketer, would you have allowed this?

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