Thursday, February 21, 2013


Ok, I'm late to the party on this one.

But how good is the new Prince thing?

The lesson here is, keep on keepin' on.

Prince has been a bit duff for a while but... (like we said about Elvis)...

'Quality, is a probabilistic function of quantity.'

He's back.

If the talent is there then the goods will come.

Re: 'Dumb Ways To Die and social media bullshit'

An article on Mumbrella on the topic of the 'Dumb Ways To Die' Metro Trains campaign continues to attract opinion and commentary.

The author, Karalee Evans - a digital strategy type and former state government employee with regard to infrastructure and public transport in particular - has ruffled some feathers with her view.

'Metro Trains’ seemingly unchallenged claim that a viral video...led to a 20 percent reduction in risky behavior” is social media bullshit.'

'If Metro...really are claiming that Dumb Ways to Die led to a 20 percent reduction in risky behaviour; e.g. a significant behavioural change in a period of two months, then we really need to see the empirical evidence.'

Some of the criticism has been both harsh, and lacking in insight.

However I'm compelled to say that she's right and wrong at the same time.

Akin to assigning single channel ROI, the notion that a public responding to viewing of single video was directly, measurably responsible for the 20% figure is nonsense.

But calling for empirical evidence is equally foolhardy as the effect is impossible to measure in data points.

However, if the 20% reduction in reported dangerous incidents is a plausible number then the fact that the video exists; and the reduction occurred during the time of it's existence, then there is a likely-hood that there was indeed some effect.

The 'Dumb Ways To Die' video's effectiveness, is manifest in the way it acts as a kind of 'social object'.

Simple social object theory decrees said objects ' the centerpiece in a dialogue between two or more people. People don’t just talk — they tend to talk “around” objects.'

So Karalee's hypothesis that the video has had little or no effect on behaviour change locally (ie in it's target geo area) because '[in the viral effect] most of these stories, and the links and subsequent viewers, were from outside of Australia let alone the target, Melbourne' is immaterial.

As a 'social object' the real communication effect has happened in the spaces in-between people. For the communication to work there is no necessity for all individuals or groups to have actually viewed the video itself, however the idea (of which the video is the container)is the 'viral' element.

(As is the case with all so-called 'viral' content, by the way.
The media is simply the container of the idea.)

But here's the thing.

The 20% reduction in incidents claim is as much part of the idea as any other element.

How empirically accurate the number is, is not the point.

Everything communicates.

The 20% number acts as 'social proof' that the behaviour has begun to change.

Because in any conditions of uncertainty (ie all the bloody time) we take cues on how to behave from what we see or percieve to be the norm (what others are doing) then the mere description of a shift in behaviour acts as a spur to the continuation of that behaviour.

'Dumb Ways To Die' is as much a piece of brand advertising as it is social media.

The nature of brand advertising is not about the personal, it works as an signal to a mass audience (we) that an idea exists.

The components of the idea were attractive and easy enough to absorb and spread that it caught on.

In the same way that not everything that counts can be counted - and not everything that can be counted counts, looking for the empirical evidence will prove fruitless, it doesn't exist.

(We've talked about the 'Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy'in these pages before - the common foible of social media gurus/experts)

But looking at the bigger picture - incidents before and incidents after - gives more of a clue, and then cummunicating the success (social proof) helps to build the momentum.

Word of the day. Osmosis.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


In working out what to do it's often helpful to start by articulation of what one will not do.

Then see what you are left with.

See Wire's rules of negative self-definition below.

thx dangerousminds

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

balearic antifragility

I've finally started on Taleb's 'AntiFragile'.

One of the key ideas is that theories are more fragile than practice, meaning theoretical knowledge is of limited use and therefore theory alone often lead to less than satisfactory outcomes.

Through practice we can find what works; without necessarily the need to know why.

Indeed, what often works in practice doesn't work in theory.

A practical example would be the above tune by The Cure; a balearic club classic from back in the day.

Goth-lite whimsy from a bunch of funny looking pixies with big hair, long overcoats and black nail polish doesn't immediately feel like a recipe for get-on-one-matey nights in open roof clubs in Ibiza.

It works in practice but doesn't work in theory.

Celebration of risk and randomness though is the stock in trade of the balearic-ly inclined.

Friday, February 15, 2013

four ways charity:water gets it

We've enthused about charity:water in these pages before.

They just seem to 'get' communications much more than most.

And as we've noted before they are without doubt the poster child of the not-for-profit world, but the lessons for any brand in any category are there for sure.

This video landed in my inbox this morning.

A 'thank you - we love you' message to supporters for Valentines Day.

It probably cost buttons to produce.

And there's a few reasons why this is so great.

1. Fun.

They fundamentally understand that in order to attract supporters (and move behaviour) it needs to look like a good idea. One of my oft repeated quotes on behaviour change comes from Ed Gillespie of sustainability agency Futerra.

Ed says: 'If you want to subvert the dominant paradigm, you have to have more fun than they are, and let them know while you’re doing it'.

2. Likability.

Amongst all the advertising bollocks we talk a vastly under-rated factor in the success of any communications is basic likeability. The affect heuristic if you prefer. When posed a difficult question - Shall I donate or support charity:water? - We [our system one] responds with an easier answer to a different question - Do I like these people?.

Looking at this clip that features the people who work for the organisation, we just like them.

And, of course, look at the message. THEY LIKE US, TOO.

3.Social proof.

In any conditions of uncertainty - will I? won't I? - we'll take our cues from what we see others around us doing. It doesn't have to be anyone we know or a recommendation from a friend or expert (though this works too) just the general sense of something happening. It's popular. So the charity:water workers calling out the individuals and groups who have helped demonstrates that this is a popular thing.

It's catching on. Momentum.

4. Shareability.

Of course, if I'm one of the supporters being thanked then I'm going to show this to other people. It sends a signal as to the kind of person I am.

Here's another revenue idea for charity:water.

Start an advertising agency and plough the profits into the projects.

They would clean up.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

insurgent country

I do get sad seeing a former client make a hash of things.

NAB have copped some flack for their radio ad which takes the mickey out of a country music stereotype.

So they've publicly pulled the ad and apologised.

The fact that they crumbled at the first sign of unrest from a few outspoken voices from rural Australia is not the saddest part.

The sadder fact remains that they somehow believed, and still believe, that country music isn't cool.

When, of course, it's just about the coolest shit there is.

But country fans are outlaws and outsiders.
A tribe.
They're different from the mainstream.
You could almost say they have decided to 'break-up' from the dominant popular culture.

If only there was a brand that stood for those kind of values?

Rather than taking a smug cheap shot at a easy target cliche, NAB would have been better advised to compared bank fees to X-Factor wannabees or Big Brother nonentities.
Because 'certainly' no-one likes that garbage.

And 'certainly' there would be no customer revolt from hardcore X Factor fans demanding retribution.

Because there is no-one who gives enough of a shit.

But of course NAB have already sponsored those quality additions to the culture.

File this one under Dunning-Kruger Effect.

to be perfectly frankl.

Legendary psychiatrist Viktor Frankl talks about the human search for meaning in this rare clip from 1972.

Perhaps more poignant is his observation about strategy.

When pilots are navigating they need to aim the plane well above their target in order to land in the right place.

This is because of headwinds or something. When they aim directly for the target they miss and end up somewhere wrong.

(If it's easier then imagine Roberto Carlos scoring his famous banana for Brazil against France in the 1998 World Cup)

So to get (at least) good, we had better aim for great.

Because aiming for average means that that you will almost always get shit.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I'm a poet and I know it. Hope I don't blow it.

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.

Poetry, beauty, love, romance. These are what we stay alive for.

The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

From Dead Poets Society, obviously.

After struggling with the writing of a creative brief this week I abandoned the format and summed up the key point of view as a small poem instead.

It wasn't a great poem but it was a much better brief.

school's out

Various Australian news outlets reported this week, that parents in Victoria who let their children miss school without a 'valid' reason may face a $70 fine per absence under a 'planned crackdown next year' by the State government.

How this will be enforced is unclear, but I was reminded of the story in Freakonomics, in which the authors reported on a study examining the day-care centre who charged parents a fine for turning up late to pick up their children.

The study looked at the habits of parents over a ten week period before the introduction of the fine and then for an identical period again after the punishment was introduced.

Surprisingly the results showed that the number of late pickups actually increased after the fine was introduced. So not only did the fines not improve the behaviour, the fine actually made the behaviour worse.

The replacement of a social norm (be on time to pick up the kids) with an economic norm (the fine becomes - in effect - a baby-sitting fee) turned the situation into a market.

Therefore, by market rules a $70 surcharge on, say, a long-weekend - a simple transaction that buys a Friday off school for a kid might be viewed as reasonably good value when weighed up against avoiding weekend traffic to the country/beach or whatever, or offset that against the hikes in hotel prices and flights that coincide with official school holidays and $70 a day is still something of a bargain.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

a better mousetrap?

'The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become.

When we make a mistake doing the wrong thing and correct it, we become wronger.

When we make a mistake doing the right thing and correct it, we become righter.

Therefore, it is better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right.

This is very significant because almost every problem confronting our [industry] is a result of the fact that our [marketers/agencies etc] are doing the wrong things and are trying to do them righter.'

Adapted from Russell Ackoff.

HT Thinkpurpose

no room to rhumba in a sports car

It can legitimately be said that Elvis Presley probably made more terrible records* than any other artist in history. The appalling 'There's No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car' - from the soundtrack of 1963’s 'Fun In Acapulco' - is certainly one.

But also true is that he also made more truly great records than - just about - anyone else.

*One interesting point to note is that the vast majority of the bad records were made during the bad movie period of 1960 – 67, immediately following his stint in the army.

A pivotal moment for Elvis was the so-called 68 Comeback Special. The back-to-basics Elvis hooked up with some old bandmates from the pre-army period in a stripped down rock’n’roll jam session, interspersed with a nod to the ‘future’ grown-up Elvis via bigger soulful numbers like ‘In The Ghetto’ and the epic ‘If I Can Dream’.

My question is:

Was it, in fact, a necessary process for Elvis to go through that period of creative failure in 60-67 in order to come out the other side bigger bolder and stronger?

Is this ‘failing fast’ notion not simply an inevitable by-product of innovation, but a necessary requirement.

It’s a rhetorical question, the answer is pretty much affirmative.

I stumbled across an old piece on the Farnhamstreet blog the other day which asked the question ‘ why is managing the creative process so difficult?

The post quotes from the oft quoted Malcolm Gladwell article in The New Yorker entitled 'Creation myth'. It’s Gladwell’s riff on a familiar ‘talent borrows, genius steals’ theme.

There’s a little nugget in there from the psychologist Dean Simonton, who notes,

“Quality, is a probabilistic function of quantity.”

‘Simonton argues that...the difference between Bach and his forgotten peers isn’t necessarily that he had a better ratio of hits to misses. The difference is that the mediocre might have a dozen ideas, while Bach, in his lifetime, created more than a thousand full-fledged musical compositions.

A genius is a genius, Simonton maintains, because he can put together such a staggering number of insights, ideas, theories, random observations, and unexpected connections that he almost inevitably ends up with something great.

Simonton’s point is that there is nothing neat and efficient about creativity. “The more successes there are,” he says, “the more failures there are as well”—meaning that the person who had far more ideas than the rest of us will have far more bad ideas than the rest of us, too.’

This reminded me of a theme in 'Thinking Fast and Slow'.

In the book Kahneman encourages us to notice the the differences between luck and skill.

It’s a reccurring theme in the book that luck, or good/bad fortune if you prefer, has a disproportionate effect on outcomes.

Fluctuations in fortune should be measured against ‘regression to the mean’.

In the case of Elvis, the 60-67 blip, was indeed a blip.

Unpredicatable events (ie Army service) disrupted the average quality of output, then in ’68 normal service resumed.

The Elvis ouvre regressed to the mean.

Through this lens we are able to distinguish ‘unlucky’ performance from ‘skilled’ performance.

For us as marketers simply noticing when we are successful because we are lucky as opposed to being skilled is something to be mindful of. Therefore taking the learning from that good fortune and applying it to subsequent experiments will make us much better marketers.

The old chestnut (attributed to either Gary Player, Arnold Palmer or Samuel Goldwyn – take your pick) seems to apply.

"The more I practice, the 'luckier' I get".

(UPDATE: As John has correctly pointed out in the comments below - we are best advised to interpret the above adage/cliche by substituting 'luckier' for 'skillful' - to be fair that's the sentiment that Player/Palmer/Goldwyn intended.)

It’s popular to talk about ‘vulnerability’ in advertising – this notion the campaigns could go either way and total disaster is but a baw-hair away from outrageous success.

This is true, but the this needs to be tempered with a fail-fast approach.

Successes are hard, perhaps impossibly hard, to predict.

It’s only only after-the-fact that it seems TO BE CLEAR why something took off.

When PSY and his mates were in the studio cranking out 'Gangnam Style', NO WAY were they strategizing for a global phenomenon.
They were hoping for another hit in South Korea.

If it had flopped then it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.

Regression to the mean would indicate that the next tune might be the one that got them back on track.
Similarly, PSY knows that repeating the unprecedented phenomenon of ‘Gangnam Style’ is extremely unlikely because of regression to the mean.

But he’ll be cool with that.

It’s important that we understand this in communications.
The idea test and learn is exactly about embracing unpredictability, not getting carried away with huge successes and not worry too much about the odd flop.

Like in the Elvis story ‘quality, is a probabilistic function of quantity.’

In fact the '68 Special highpoint, and Elvis' post-rock'n'roll career defining moment, 'If I Can Dream' was actually written overnight, at the request of Elvis himself the night before the recording of the show, by Walter Earl Brown as a last-minute pivot and replacement for a schmaltzy Christmas number that the Colonel had originally wanted.

Mediocrity produces fewer ideas, they may get lucky but regression to the mean would indicate that the hits will be few and the majority will be like ‘Rhumba in a Sports Car’.

Being creative means have more ideas, more often and more of them will get 'lucky' and be ‘If I Can Dream’.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

why economists get things wrong

This video from Irish economist, broadcaster and author David McWilliams opens with this observation - is it not ridiculous that we should be listening to the economic 'forecasts' from those very same experts who, of course, completely failed to forecast the current crisis coming in the first place?

The core issue being neglected by the 'experts' that as soon as humans are involved (ie always) then standard economic theory goes out the window, and all kinds of foibles and biases come into play.

McWilliams' own flavour of behavioural economics influenced analysis is labelled Punk Economics and this clip is part of a series of films under the same banner. All of which are ably illustrated by Mark Flood and can be viewed via their YouTube channel.

David says 'Economics and economic analysis has become similarly overblown and self-indulgent. Worse still, many (not all) economists have failed to make it simple, easy and comprehensible for the vast majority of people, something economics must be, if it’s to be of any use to us.'