Mr Angry found inside Pandora’s Box

Not my most accessible-ever headline.  What on earth do I mean?

Travel with me first to Regent’s Park on a dark evening a week or two ago.  Driving home, I narrowly miss a cyclist, dressed in black and showing no lights, riding absolutely invisibly in the middle of the road.  A little further on he stops alongside me at a traffic light, and I wind down my window and suggest entirely aimiably that he’d give me a sporting chance of missing him if he fitted some lights.  He launches a tirade of hysterical abuse and makes to get off his bike and reach in to assault me.  Fortunately, at this point the traffic light changes.

Now let’s go on – painful though it is for me – to Wembley Stadium yesterday.  It’s my beloved Spurs vs Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final.  We’re some way short of our best, but we’re absolutely all over them – having, according to the BBC, 31 attempts on goal compared to their 12, and winning 20 corners to their 7.  It’s one of those days when the ball just will not go into the net (and when it does, the ref quite wrongly disallows it).  You might imagine that the 40,000 Spurs fans present would be roaring their team on, providing every ounce of available encouragement to turn domination into victory.

But you’d imagine wrong. Where I was sitting – and, I strongly suspect wherever you were sitting among the Spurs fans – what you’d have heard would have been foul, vituperative abuse.  The fans around me hated our team, and especially certain players in it, with an absolute passion.  They missed no opportunity to scream filthy insults at them.  They detested our team far more than they detested our opponents – and far, far more than our opponents’ fans detested Spurs.  Sitting among these people was a miserable experience, almost more miserable than losing 2-0.

What do I conclude from these two experiences?  That there are an awful lot of Travis Bickles out there, maintaining the semblance of a normal daily life but permanently on the brink of an outbreak of psychotic rage.  I don’t know how many – sometimes it seems like it’s almost everyone – but it’s definitely a lot.

It’s a deeply depressing thought.  But if you’re one of the many marketing evangelists who’s keen to invite consumers into ever-more-active roles in owning, building and projecting your brand, it’s also a deeply scary one.  Nestle rightly picked up flak recently for their clumsy attempts to prevent the interactive part of their website from being hijacked by anti-corporate saboteurs.  But although their response was silly and counterproductive, the issue they faced was a real and difficult one which more and more organisations offering open access to anyone who fancies it are sure to encounter.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Spurs website doesn’t provide anything much by way of chatrooms or discussion boards.  It’s a pity – a lot of 21st century marketing, comms and CRM people would say it’s a major missed opportunity to engage with the fans and build a truly customer-focused, 21st-century style brand.  But those people should keep quiet until they’ve had the experience I had at Wembley yesterday.  You really wouldn’t want any of those psychos anywhere near your website.

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