Friends, gather round. I have been to the Labour Party Conference and survived to tell this tale: the world of politics is not full of sharks but of carnival games.
And, it's not just politics. In conventions centres across the land, charities are setting up shop and nabbing innocent bystanders through the bait of plastic ducks, knocking over pins and humiliating others by topping them on leaderboards.
At the Labour Party Conference, it seemed every charity wanted in on the game -- literally a game of some description where they had harangued an MP like Tom Watson into shooting plastic rabbits off a board and then asked a passersby to try and beat his score.
...is what I initially thought, but as each stand repeated a different version of the same hook, I grew cynical. Alarms always sound for me when I realise that a great idea is being copied to the nth degree.
Worse, I found a terrible flaw in their sport: the games led nowhere.
After fishing for plastic ducks, knocking over pins and humiliating MPs, I'd ask the person running the stand, "What's next?"
"What do you mean?" they'd say.
"I mean, so what do I need to do next?"
"Ah, nothing?" they'd look perplexed. "I supposed you could come back later and see if you still top the leaderboard."
So, I'd leave. No one collected my address, email or contact details of any kind. No one asked me to donate or fill out a questionnaire. I didn't leave with any literature, nor was I shown how to contact them. That's was it. I beat Tom Watson, MP. Sorry, Tom. And sorry, to those charities -- because clearly a lot of work went into designing an incentive for people to visit your stand and you didn't see much benefit.
Until, that is, I happened upon the Alzheimer Research UK stand. It was bloody brilliant.
Same set up: a stall, some people and a leaderboard. Their game was a 1980s-type Asteroid game (which appealed to the nerd in me, but I digress). As I finished with a blistering score, it flashed across the screen. "Do you want to see your name on the screen?" the computer asked. Hell, yeah, I thought. "Give us your email and name and hit go!" And up went my name, smashing the score of David Lammy. Sorry, David.
It was easy to get me on board; they understood my desire to see my name on the big screen. Within a minute, I received an email from them and that connection will continue well past the conference.
This reminded me of another brilliant trick that showed a charity understood the link between people giving their information in return for some kind of reward.
Years ago, I was walking through Newcastle city centre. The Children's Society in Newcastle hired magicians to stand in the street. They asked me, "Would you like to see a card trick?" Yes, I did. And when I looked, my card had disappeared. "Do you know," the magician would say, "that 400 kids in Newcastle disappear each year?"
Great link, but the Children's Society took it a step further. They asked me to choose another card but, to see if they guessed it, I had to give them my phone number. Seconds later, a text came back: "Is it the 9 of clubs?" My card! The text continued, "Do you want to know how we do this trick? Click on this link and we'll show you."
Thousands of people signed up who otherwise would have just walked on by.
And, they didn't just sign up, they visited the Children's Society's web site.
It's all fun and games, until someone figures out an ingenious way to get your number.
What magic tricks do you use to get contact details?
Jonathan Cook | email@example.com | +44 (0)7921 250 211
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Photo: Steven Depolo/Flickr