23 May 2011

Last week was undoubtedly a great week for Manchester, with both Manchester’s Premiership football clubs reminding the rest of the world that top class football is alive and well in the North West. Yet, in spite of history being made last weekend and the 1st and 3rd places confirmed today, Manchester United and Manchester City were completely outplayed and overshadowed on the Internet with news circulating that a premiership football player put out a super injunction to prevent his name being published in an English Newspaper.

Imogen on top of Giggs

Imogen Thomas on top of Ryan Giggs

The irony is that, even though no one is allowed to publish information about the football player, the whole world seems pretty confident of who it is thanks to the Internet. Tonight, a Scottish newspaper effectively ended the anonymous court order by publishing a picture of one of United’s superstars, flagrantly writing “Censored” over his eyes. The Scottish Herald’s editor reported that the “English legal system doesn’t prevent them from publishing the information.”

And here lies the problem. The internet is a vast territory. It spans continents, it knows no boundaries or borders and it has no dedicated policing system. We flick from site to site in seconds, yet the sites might be hosted on the other side of the globe.

Whoever the footballer is, he may have bitten off more than he can chew. To put a global gagging order on every site on the internet would require deeper pockets than even those of a premiership footballer.

You have to wonder what went on during the alleged affair as there is a great deal of work being invested in keeping the news quiet. Or is the player trying simply to protect his wife and family from embarrassment as no wife deserves adverse publicity? The irony in all this is that he has done much more harm and created much more noise by trying to bury something that quite frankly isn’t half as interesting as watching a grown man play “whack a mole” with the British Press. Just as he thinks he is getting on top, “International Whack A Mole” begins.

Before you start taking on the likes of Twitter, you need to take advice on the depth of your competitors’ pockets and the appetite for publicity these huge US Corporations have. Whether the Premiership footballer wins or loses, Twitter wins the publicity game and that’s really all it’s about.

With search volumes at an all time high for Ryan Giggs, it does look like people are rightly or wrongly assuming it is him. There have been other instances of people being incorrectly named by the “offending Twitter site” too, so it’s important not to jump to conclusions.

Personally, I couldn’t care less which footballer it is. What is fascinating is peoples’ behaviour. In the same way Google has become the most successful and talked about business through the mystique of its “secret algorithm”, it is clear that people want what they can’t have even when its drilled down to news or information. It’s the not knowing that is causing the snowballing effect here, and it is a lesson that all marketeers should try and learn from.

Whoever is fuelling the rumours, is giving Giggs the last laugh, as he is currently 2000% more popular than David Beckham and 300% more popular than Manchester United. His publicist could not have dreamt for such an outcome. If this was planned it was a stroke of genius. If it was not, then it still is genius and certainly a good time to get a book out. Being a fellow Welshman, I’d buy it.

And what about Imogen Thomas? The picture above clearly demonstrates that she has come out on top. Her figures dwarf even those of Ryan Giggs for current search terms according to the latest internet traffic figures. She is being represented by Max Clifford and, I think, is getting the sympathy vote. She has dated Russell Brand and a string of celebrities and never felt the need to publicise the intimate details so why the sudden panic and the need to put out a gagging order? It seems less about the event and more about strategic publicity.

But the last word is definitely left to the internet user on the chat rooms and the social networking sites. What is extraordinary and even more evident in cases like this, is that the Internet is here to stay. It has a mind of its own. It’s unstoppable in many ways. It has defeated the music industry. It has destroyed the high street as we once knew it. It punished the broadsheets for underestimating it and even TV now settles in second.

The internet is a place where news will eventually get out. We have seen news from countries where camera crews have been banned. Through a simple mobile device, the world can listen and learn. Long may it reign, in my opinion. Super Injunctions currently cover the newspaper industry and as yet they do not extend to the wider audience. As a result, it is very difficult to suppress information on something as vast as the network that makes up the internet. Yes, you can shut down a site but you can’t shut down every site. I found hundreds of reports on the footballer in question supposedly naming the United legend, but who really knows and does anyone really really care? All this publicity doesn’t make anyone guilty. However, unless someone stands tall and publicly states “it wasn’t me” there is a danger you come across as guilty by association.

Does information out in the public domain really do harm if a person does come clean? Andrew Marr is a good example of someone who put out a Super Injunction and then removed it a few years later. Marr decided that it was hypocritical and prevented him as a journalist from being objective. I think he got a fair amount of stick from his colleagues too. I don’t think people will be judgemental over the footballer’s behaviour if it turns out to be him. People make mistakes. She is an attractive woman. At the moment, I dont even think that’s what people are interested in. I believe that currently the “not knowing” is making the story far more intriguing and as a result it is on the tip of everyones tongues. As soon as it is confirmed, it will be tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapper or pushed down and buried on the search engines.

Looking at Andrew Marr, it hasn’t done him any long term damage. His interview of President Obama this week reinforces this point. Whatever the outcome, Giggs will always be remembered as one of Manchester’s finest assets, whether you are a Red or a Blue.


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