I once met Bud Luckey.
He's most famous as the chief character designer on many of the Pixar movies.
Toy story, Cars, Mosters Inc and the Incredibles, amongst others.
As an ad nerd I was more excited to be meeting the creator of Tony The Tiger from the Frosties ads.
Bud's ouvre is anthropomorphism.
A word that should be familiar to us in advertising.
The attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena.
It should have been familiar to me, indeed I was once scolded by Mr Dodds for not knowing the word.
My only excuse being that I was used to the easier to understand 'personification', which means kinda the same thing.
Anyway, I wonder what Bud would make of this real ticket barrier on the London Underground's Jubilee line that sings Blur's 'Song 2'.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
I once met Bud Luckey.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Looking at most everyday products, stuff like light bulbs, car insurance, bleach or any of the other myriad of products that one doesn't reasonably choose to buy or not, product x is easily substituted by product y.
More often than not these will be purchases driven by things like habit, price and whether or not we have heard of the brand.
These would be what we might call utilitarian purchases.
With these type of things there's likely to be very little narrative constructed by the buyer around the activity.
If, on the other hand, the product in question is more 'unnecessary' or hedonic, some gizmo or other - probably expensive, there is a greater chance the buyer will create a story for themselves, usually about how said gizmo fits in with your self-image.
This helps you rationalise the fact that you had to choose the item, then spend some significant wedge on it.
Choosing one thing over another thing requires a narrative about why you did it.
Knowing this it's easy to undertand why certain premium brands appear to benefit from greater brand 'loyalty'.
These buyers are not necessarily more loyal, they have just had to construct a better post-hoc narrative to convince themselves they made good choices.
We'll tend to display a consistency bias - in which we will modify future behaviours to be in line with what we have previously said or done.
For most brands, the majority of sales come from the huge volume of people who might only buy one or twice a year. Not the hardcore loyalists.
This is because very few people are 100% brand loyal in any given category, I'm no exception.
Except when it concerns tea.
It was not always this way, but given the opportunity, ie the availability, I'll now only drink Yorkshire.
Yorkshire was among the preferred choices in the UK though, in line with the duplication of purchases law we were also perfectly happy with Tetley's, PG Tips or even M&S own brand on occasion, and depending on physical availability.
On coming to Australia the tea situation was different. The most popular brand, I'm guessing as it occupies the bulk of shelf space in the supermarkets, was Liptons.
So upon experimenting with the brand leader first, we unfortunately came to the realisation that it was rank rotten.
Others such as Billy Tea and Twinings Australian fared no better.
Then one day at the British Butcher shop out in the eastern suburbs a source of imported Yorkshire was uncovered.
But at $25 a pop for box of 400 it was now firmly in the realm of hedonic purchases therefore requiring a better narrative to rationalise the purchase.
Henceforth, the tea was now in the same bundle of 'taste-from-home' category purchases that included black pudding, tattie scones and square sausage, to be enjoyed once-every-now-and-then.
For many months that same ritual was performed, until now, and Yorkshire appears to have been incorporated as a line in one of the major supermarkets.
To be on the safe side, and feeling my scarcity bias kicking in at lunchtime today, the pictured bulk purchase was made, also not lightly influenced by a price framing effect as $3.50 for 100 significantly kicks the arse of 25 bucks for 400 .
So now with a utilitarian price point and a hedonic narrative it's all win on the tea front, for now.
In Ovid's narrative poem Metamorphoses, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory and named her Galatea, then subsequently fell in love with the sculpture.
Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is a further adaptation of the same story.
In fact there's umpteen variants, if you're so geek-ily inclined.
In more modern times there's George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion.
In this adaptation - probably most famous as the musical version My Fair Lady - the working-class cockney flower-girl Eliza Doolittle* is transformed by one Professor Henry Higgins ('Enry 'Iggins), who teaches her to refine her accent and conversation and conduct herself in a manner so to integrate the manners and norms appropriate in upper-class social situations.
*Worth also noting that Audrey Hepburn's cockney accent was somewhat more believable than that other Hollywood cock-er-nee Dick Van Dyke's in Mary Poppins - until I was 27 i was under the impression he was supposed to be a migrant Dutchman on some sort of Euro chimneysweep exchange program.
Psychology has also adopted the theme, The Pygmalion effect occurs when people alter their behavior to meet situational expectations.
We mentioned the Boston cardboard cut-out cop in a previous post.
Not strictly a Pygmalion effect, more of a purist peripheral-exposure nudge.
However the introduction of lifesize cardboard cutouts of doctors and nurses in the fruit and veg section of the Salford branch of UK supermarket Morrisons appears to have contributed to a spike in sales of healthy food, according to a report in the Telegraph.
'In the first study of its kind in the UK, the lifesize images of real doctors and nurses who work in the area were positioned in the supermarket together with Let’s Shop Healthier messages inside and outside the shop.
The study by the National Obesity Forum found that over a 15-week period, volume sales of fresh fruit in the store were 20 per cent higher and in control stores, while frozen fruit sales were up by 29 per cent'.
The kicker is when the Pygmalion effect is combined with what psychologists call the Exposure effect.
As an aside, this effect is why celebrity endorsements are so popular and effective in advertising.
People tend to like things more merely because they are familiar with them.
In this example the medical professionals used in the display were, indeed, all local practitioners so would be familiar to many of the shoppers.
While the report doesn't mention any price promotions that may have been running and the cut-outs are, of course part of a the bigger 'Let's Shop Healthier' initiative, if Morrison's shopper marketing people were adopting the some of the principles of behavioural economics to help their customers make better decisions the wouldn't it be loverly?
Hat-tip and finders fee to Claire McAlpine via Twitter.
Using physical metaphor to describe abstract concepts is something we tend to do all the time.
In this blog I'll usually call important books we've been reading a weighty tome, or something.
Meetings get pushed out, arguments are heated, ideas get bounced around (ok, to be clear I never say that one but I've heard it plenty).
As you would expect, there's a name for this phenomenon, there's a couple actually.
In philosophy, the embodied mind thesis holds that the nature of the human mind is largely determined by the form of the human body. And psychologists call it embodied cognition.
Morrissey asked the question - in Still ill - 'does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body? I dunno.'
So, despite being somewhat well read, Moz has clearly skipped some of his key philosophy and psychology texts. It would appear the body does indeed rule the mind.
This mode of interpreting the world has evolved because our thoughts are rooted in the physical, and in particular in our bodies. And that's how we frame it.
Theres a ton of research showing how the physical world can influence our thoughts.
Washing our hands tends to make us more moralistic in the immediate period afterwards.
Other studies have shown that when speaking about the future we tend to lean slightly forwards versus thinking about the past and we lean slightly backwards. The underlying metaphor, of course is that of the 'past being behind us' and 'the future is ahead of us'
The top person on this topic is the linguist George Lakoff. Funnily enough he is the chap most associated with developing idea of framing. Itself an embodied metaphor.
One final example of embodiment interacting with the mind’s metaphors.
As it goes, there's some evidence to suggest that heavier people will often display a greater sense of their own self-importance.
I've dropped nearly 10 kilos over the last 3 or 4 months which is good news, possibly for readers of this blog, and almost certainly for those who have to deal with me on a daily basis.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
While working in an indie record shop back in the day I picked up a quick rule-of-thumb that had been developed by the owners of the shop and the chain.
In evaluating the credentials and potential threat of any rival shops or even other shops in other towns we would head straight for the Miles Davis section.
Most rivals would stock Kind Of Blue and a few compilations, possibly Sketches of Spain and some of his 80s ouvre.
These shops would not be marked as a significant threat.
However those who stocked an extensive catalogue of Prestige era goodies and stuff like Bitches Brew and the Jack Johnson album were considered to be more serious competitors.
Turns out that one could make a decent stab at evaluating the competition from one data point, and be right more often than not.
Indeed, scientists Peter J. Rentfrow and Samuel D. Gosling from University of Cambridge, UK, and University of Texas at Austin, in their paper The Role of Music Preferences in Interpersonal Perception back this up.
Their findings confirm that 'individuals use their music preferences to communicate information about their personalities to observers, and that observers can use such information to form impressions of others:
'[The study] revealed that music was the most common topic in conversations among strangers given the task of getting acquainted...
...observers were able to form consensual and accurate impressions on the basis of targets’ music preferences.
...music preferences were related to targets’ personalities,
...the speciﬁc cues that observers used tended to be the ones that were valid,
...music preferences reveal information that is different from that obtained in other zero-acquaintance contexts.
In addition we are reminded of this nugget from his book, Life, in which Keith Richards describes how he and Mick Jagger initially clicked, in the early days before the Stones even existed as a thing.
He notes that they had almost identical tastes in music (blues, r'n'b) and an almost telepathic understanding, and agreement on which music was right and wrong.
'... It was either that's the shit or that isn't the shit.
No matter what kind of music you were talking about. I really liked some pop music if it was the shit. But there was a definite line of what the shit was and what wasn't the shit. Very strict.'
On occasion we've employed the Miles Davis Heuristic in hiring situations.
When it's hard to choose between two candidates, equal on every level, then asking them to provide a list of their top five albums of all time can work as a tiebreaker.
On one such occasion a candidate blew it by offering up a Sting album in their list.
It was game over from that point.
Clearly, that isn't the shit.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
So, The Guardian reports on a study from Princeton University that claims Facebook is set to lose 80% of its users by 2017.
Indeed, according to the study, Facebooks's impending doom (sic) comes from 'comparing its growth curve to that of an infectious disease'.
While the twittersphere has erupted there's a couple of things to note about the article that might temper any death notions for the moment.
Firstly consider this quote 'John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler, from the US university's mechanical and aerospace engineering department, have based their prediction on the number of times Facebook is typed into Google as a search term.'
So things are already starting to smell a bit bogus.
Particularly when the report admits that 'The 870 million people using Facebook via their smartphones each month could explain the drop in Google searches – those looking to log on are no longer doing so by typing the word Facebook into Google.'
So that's 870 million from what Facebook report as a 1.2 billion monthly active user base, ie roughly 75%ish of users discounted from the off.
Secondly, read into the body of the article the claim is slightly less sensational 'Princeton forecast says it will lose 80% of its peak user base within the next three years'.
So, even if that prediction were to be true, dropping science on it a few rules come into play…
Retention double jeopardy:
All brands drop some users and the loss is proportionate to their market share (so big brands (i.e. Facebook) will certainly lose more but it’s a smaller proportion of their base.
Pareto law redux 60/20:
A bit more than half of Facebook's usage will come from the top 20% of users (peak user base) – the rest come from the bottom 80% therefore a drop of 80% peak user base is not a massive number, and will be balanced by….
Natural monopoly law:
Brands with more market share will continue to attract a greater proportion of light users.
The law of buyer moderation:
Heavy users use less in the period after they were classified as heavy users and thus the flip may also probably be true of light users, they will use a bit more (i.e. regression to the mean) and some will become heavy users.
So, will Facebook be over in 2017?
Based on the data we have today, and barring any unexpected or random events in the near future that we can't possibly predict.
Facebook's own data scientists have published their own humorous rebuttal which includes this observation:
'In keeping with the scientific principle "correlation equals causation," our research unequivocally demonstrated that Princeton may be in danger of disappearing entirely.'
thanks Phil Sheard and Ciarán Norris for the heads up.
We've been describing the importance of recognising the extraordinary power of system one type mental processes in 'how-advertising-actually-works' as part of our planning process for a long time.
To make it fun and easy for clients to 'get it' there are many system one exercises that can be wheeled out to illustrate intuitive decision making, the many ways we fool ourselves and how we respond emotionally even though we might imagine we are thinking rationally.
I've used the famous bat-and-ball example, various card tricks and faux-hypnotism amongst others.
While this is great, there is perhaps a danger that it can sometimes feel a bit like smarty pants, parlour-trickery, so needs to be contrasted with some demonstration of the other side of the coin, the effortful system two thinking.
Here's a quick one that does the job, yet again it's from Thinking Fast and Slow.
So, if you've shown your client that they don't think as much as they think they think by flummoxing them with some system one self delusion then want them to turn on the system two juice, the following exercise* is handy.
[*As a short aside it's not advisable to do this excercise if you want to sell them anything immediately afterwards.
The amount of ego depletion post-task is likely to kick-in some heavy duty system one default-to-no risk aversion.]
To start, get them to make up several sequences of 4 numbers each, make them all different, and write each string on post-it note or something.
Place a blank piece of paper on top to cover your deck of numbers.
This excercise is called add-1.
Next start tapping a steady rhythm with something, about 122 bpm should suffice (if in doubt, imagine a bit of vintage house 88/89 style pumping) or ask the subjects to do it.
Ask them to remove the cover then read the four digits out loud.
Then after two beats, say a sequence in which each of the original digits is incremented by 1.
For example, if the numbers on the first post-it are 1-9-0-3, the +1 increment will be 2-0-1-4.
Got it? Geep them going with the rest of the sequences, keep feeling the rhythm.
After about 5 seconds or so it will start to get pretty hard.
Most people can just about cope with four digits in the +1 task, but if you want to make it harder, then wind it up to +3.
The amount of cognitive effort being used will be reflected physiologically in the dilating of the pupils of your subject, so it can also be useful to film them up close with your phone or something then play it back.
That's your classic system two demo.
Watch the knackered faces of your subjects after just a few seconds.
Then refer them back to their brief to you which contains a long list of things that they expect 'the consumer' to 'think'.
Then propose that, perhaps, a better approach is to simply do our best to get the advertising noticed and remembered by more people in more buying situations by making them feel something, make implicit associations and by appealing to the intuitive system one, who really runs 'tings.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Firstly a recap on behaviour change 101.
For a behaviour to be changed or otherwise shaped then there are two principle conditions that need to be taken into account.
Condition number one concerns the motivating factors for the person or persons from whom the change is required.
More often than not the motivator will take the form of some sort of reward.
Condition two requires the new or modified behaviour to be easy for said persons to adopt.
According to nudge theory, the ease in which a behaviour is adopted can be influenced by how the choices are presented.
For instance, arranging the choice architecture in a way that people can be gently nudged in a certain direction without taking away their 'freedom of choice'.
Looking at the situation on this platform in a western Sydney railway station, one is inclined (and there's not necessarily any expert intuition involved) to surmise that this qualifies as an anti-nudge.
From a behavioural economics stand point we should be mindful of that human cognitive bias that always seems to come and trip us up when designing reward mechanisms, namely loss aversion - and its ability to make subjects feel losses (or the prospect of losses) about twice as badly as how one would feel about the equivalent gains.
To that note one has to admit that the possibly dangerous behaviour - standing too close to the platform - does seem to have a certain level of reward attached, meaning that any mechanism designed to combat the behaviour would need a fairly substantial reward upgrade in order to motivate.
And finally, we are reminded of the story of 70s footballer and enfant terrible Stan Bowles, essentially yer English George Best.
Bowles was making a rare appearnce for the English national team and before the match was informed by boss, Sir Alf Ramsey that he would be pulled off at half-time.
To which Bowles replied 'That's great, all we get is an orange at QPR'.
'I thought that if you had an acoustic guitar
Then it meant that you were a protest singer
Oh I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible'
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Holding my hands up, I've been guilty in the past of wheeling out skunk words like 'authentic' in the past.
Luckily one has sobered up somewhat now.
Giddy on social media and 'prosocial' kool-aid is my only excuse m'lud.
There seems to be plenty of others still caning it, however.
Try this one for size.
"The Human Era is about a fundamental societal shift in relationships," explains Simon Glynn, Lippincott EMEA director in Warc. "As people lose confidence in institutions, and put greater trust even in total strangers, companies need to rethink how they connect with people,"
Full marks to Glynn for 'labelling' his 'thing' from the off.
But when have people ever had confidence in institutions?
Do we really place great trust in total strangers?
Have companies ever connected with people?
Glynn then goes on to describe the six characteristics of trusted brands in this Human Era, namely: customer empathy, behaving like real people, being open and real to the point of being flawed, not being boring, caring about the little things and empowering individuals 'to be the brand'.
[Yes you did read that correctly - 'empowering individuals to be the brand'.]
"Many brands talk about the importance of customers, but few actually deliver on their promise and make an authentic connection," he continues.
Putting the general babble to one side and turning down the volume on the kumbaya soundtrack for a second, just notice the liberal sprinkling of authentic and real.
We should always be mindful of the fact that any notions of authenticity in a market economy are by nature inauthentic.
They are purely positional.
In pretending that a goal of 'authentic connection with our customers' comes before shifting product this faux-pursuit of the authentic simply makes the output even more phony.
So what Glynn is talking about in the Human Era is really urging brands to demonstrate 'conspicuous authenticity'.
Because the market truth is that all consumption is about status. Sorry hipsters.
Authentic, flawed and real are pure positioning, and just as inauthentic as any other marketing.
And that's fine but let's not start trying to claim any higher ground.
And as Andrew Potter says in - his splendid tome on this kind of stuff The Authenticity Hoax - 'That’s all fine and good except for one thing: we don’t have a clue what we mean by authenticity, and even if we did, we wouldn’t know how to find it.'
Monday, January 20, 2014
We all have bias towards the information that's available to us versus the information we don't have.
We don't know what we don't know and will make our decisions without taking the information we don't have into account.
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls this phenomenon what you see is all there is.
With that in mind it's interesting to contrast a couple of points of view that we noticed this week.
Firstly, here's a snapshot from a statement by R/GA supremo Bob Greenberg, as reported in Campaign Brief, around the challenges for advertising in the coming year.
Greenberg made five points, read the whole thing if you like here, we've summarised a couple of the more pointy bits.
On a need for new business models he claims ... '[in these new business models] the purchase is just the beginning that connects consumers to an "ecosystem of value" and spurs further purchases, as Apple, Google and Amazon have all done with their ecosystems: get the same consumer to buy more things from the same brand.'
'Many of these new business models for clients will be based upon the integration of physical products with digital services. The marketing of them will be "built in" to the device itself, as was the case with Nike+ Fuelband.'
'They will "earn" the data from their consumers by providing digital services that deliver tremendous value by becoming personalised partners to consumers in everything from their finances to their health/fitness to what they cook for dinner at night to where they go on vacation to what clothes they wear, what make-up they use.'
Meanwhile in Campaign mag Chris Arnold, former Saatchi & Saatchi Creative Director reports on how the biggest FMCG brands are seeing more success than ever with so-called traditional marketing activities, ie TV, and are reducing spend on on-line activities.
'Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, Nestle, Unilever and Tesco – have dramatically slashed on-line marketing spend.
Tesco currently spends over £34m on TV advertising (that excludes outdoor and press) but now only budgets 1.4m on digital advertising, less than 5% of TV spend.
When it comes to social media, well it seems TV ads are probably the number one reason to talk about a brand, just look at John Lewis. The second is PR.
And for all the on-line chat, 80-90% of chat actually happens off-line. That too may surprise you, but in fact it’s been researched and again the media has hyped up the opposite.'
So who is right?
My sense is that Greenberg's argument cuts the least amount of mustard.
For example, even for tech brands like Apple, their heaviest users are likely to buy as much Apple product as they can reasonably expect to to buy, and - like just about everyone else in every other category - their growth depends on bigger penetration, getting more people who haven't bought much Apple product historically to buy for the first time, or a bit more.
Similarly his argument for brands becoming 'personalised partners to consumers' may somewhat apply in the realms of Nike Fuelband or FitBit but in the world of the 99% of other purchases people make on a daily basis it's a tad on the wishful thinking side.
And, lest we forget (and to avoid straying into Texas Sharpshooter territory, Nike's brand has been consistently built over a long time with tendrils that wrap themselves themselves around all sorts of media - to quote John Grant 'a cluster of strategic cultural ideas' - including everything from the product itself to the communication.
For the majority of brands it's hard enough to just get noticed and remembered, never mind being a personalised partner. And you will know this by the trail of the dead in branded app world - upwards of 90 percent of all downloaded apps are used once and then binned.
As renowned game developer and theorist Kathy Sierra famously noted 'no-one lies on their deathbed saying I wish I'd spent more time engaging with brands'.
In regard to what you see is all there is, we're inclined to say that pronouncements about the death of advertising and such like that mostly emanate from the digerati bubble and seem to be backed up with the same tech examples all the time, highly visible to the digerati, mostly invisible everyone else.
That's not to say that tactics that delivered rapid growth for some tech companies in early development haven't worked a treat.
Indeed, in Inc this week 'marketing guru' (their description) Ryan Holiday tells us 'traditional marketing tactics are dead...the smartest companies think beyond the traditional marketing and promotion boundaries.
For example, Dropbox found it cost a few hundred dollars per new customer to build its customer base through Google AdWords...until they began offering added storage as an incentive for getting a friend to sign up...the storage-for-referral program generated 40 percent of the company's growth'.
Sure, but for a start someone should inform Holiday that Google adwords do a decent job of fulfilling demand but expecting them to create demand is a bit of a stretch. That's the job of advertising.
Before we get into a this v that channel scrap, Sturgeons revelation applies to all forms of marketing. Mass reach media included. Upwards of 90% is shit.
But, let's be mindful that what may be applicable to something like growth hacking (yuk) for DropBox - and, of course, discounting the fact that for most of its users they are not required to part with a cent to use - does not apply to toothpaste or soap powder and the other 90% on consumer spending that happens off-line, out in the world and for which the predominant factors affecting that spend are convenience, habit, what seems to be popular and simple availability.
Imagining that a Dropbox model applies to everything else in every other category is pretty dubious.
My fear for these ideas of 'new business model(s) in which the purchase is just the beginning that connects consumers to an ecosystem of value' is that it just sounds like too much hard work when we all have busy lives that we just want to get on with.
Horses for courses.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
While I have no desire to repeat the 'make the logo bigger' kerfuffle that followed my comments on the lack of branding in the John Lewis Christmas ad being best understood as an exception rather than a rule - there's another example in this area that has cropped up.
And while my JL comments were actually misinterpreted by most of the detractors I stand by them.
The purpose of branding is, for the most part, creating mental availability - making the brand easy to remember and salient in buying situations.
Creativity is, obviously, the vehicle by which this happens.
But it is still advisable to introduce distinctive brand assets into the content quicker and sometimes more frequently.
So I was interested to view Doddsy's comments on the fantastic new Guinness spot, and will then humbly suggest perhaps a middle way.
'Guinness's new advertisement featuring the elegant gentlemen of Brazzaville ties in well with their theme of individuality and is unquestionably interesting and visually arresting. But, oh how they shoe-horn in the product shots towards the end and emphasise that this is indeed an advertisement and not a slice of culture.
Personally, I'd have settled for a single mention at the end of the piece and the assumption that the viewer was intelligent enough to make the connection. This way, I fear the reaction is much more likely to be along the lines of "What's this got to do with Guinness?"
If we agree that effective advertising needs to do two things.
1. Be well branded
2. Get noticed.
Then the spot definitely does point 2 but perhaps, to John's point, doesn't do point 1 so well as the product and branding seems somewhat clumsily placed.
So here's my first question.
What's so funny 'bout getting the branding in from the get-go right up front?
'Guinness presents...' then on with the show?
Creatives hate this idea when I suggest it, though I've never had a decent explanation of why.
Second question is around the obvious lack of paid promotion.
The clip is currently sitting at a paltry 165k views despite having all the hallmarks of multi-million viral smash.
There's solid data from Karen Nelson-Field's research at Ehrenberg-Bass that suggests the creative device used (essentially 'personal triumph') tends to be shared the most, and it has the high arousal positive emotional response element (inspiration, probably) plus a kick arse swamp rockin' soundtrack by The Heavy.
Again, according to the data the single biggest predictor (assuming it does the tricks as mentioned above) of online video sharing is it's initial distribution.
For the best performing videos it's about 8 views to 1 share.
24 to 1 is the average.
So to get sharing, initial seeding/paid support is key.
The social media myth is that we need to reach a few influentials in order to reach millions, in actual fact the opposite is true.
You need to reach millions to infect the rest.
Also, to that point, and in an apples for apples situation (i.e. Compelling content that evokes high arousal emotional response) brand videos that are on TV + online are likely get shared more than online only.
But in summary.
If a video evokes a high arousal positive response then the amount of branding present will not inhibit shares and views so, don't be shy, get it in there, right up front.
Even the greatest, most creative most exciting video if only seen by a few people, wont get many shares. Get it in front of as many as possible.
In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz famously notes:
'As the number of choices we face increases, freedom of choice eventually becomes a tyranny of choice. Routine decisions take so much time and attention it becomes difficult to get though the day. In circumstances like these, we should learn to view limits on the possibilities we face as liberating not constraining.'
In a small agency and often with increasingly small budgets it's easy to get the hump with imposed constraints.
Then a bigger project comes along and there can be too many options. Too many possibilities.
In both of these situations the role of strategy is the same.
Discovering which are the critical factors and designing actions to deal with them.
In both big and small challenges there's still decisions to be made about what NOT to do as much what to do.
To that note I always remember the story of General Xiang Yu, who sent his army across the Yangtze River to take on the Qin Dynasty in the 3rd Century BC.
On the night before the big battle, as his troops slept, the General ordered all of the ships to be set on fire.
The next day he told his perplexed army:
‘You now have a choice: Either you fight to win or you die.’
That's a fairly extreme strategy but it does display a degree of confidence. Never a bad thing.
In recent times we've gone into pitches that, as a small agency, we had no right to win (on paper) but came out with the business.
The appearance of supreme confidence in your presentation is often a critical factor.
So by removing the option of retreat, he switched his troops focus to the the most important thing. The battle.
If they were going to get out of there then it was only going to be in somebody else's boats.
I mention this as I read a splendid post on Adliterate this week entitled In Defence of War.
'One of the ideas that has most fallen out of fashion in the face of new age marketing has been the metaphor of war. Its use is still reasonably endemic – we talk about penetration, campaigns, winning share, positioning, and the like but its all terribly unfashionable.
The dogma of new age marketing...has created a culture in which we are supposed to stroke people into having ‘relationships’ with brands on an on going basis not launch a full frontal assault on them until they buy our products.
While this nicey-nicey approach feels altogether more comfortable it does rather avoid the reality of business and marketing in which most brands and most categories involve zero sum games where any success is utterly dependent on another businesses’ failure.'
Possibly another slightly extreme view bearing in mind the Duplication of Purchases law that applies in most categories however spot on in the assessment that the fluff around 'relationships' with brands that prevails in just that, and stripping down strategy to the critical factors - fight to win or die - is perhaps not a bad approach to liberating via self imposed constrains.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Somewhat more slapstick than the Carrie thing from last year, which we described as something of a masterclass in the construction of situations, but this one, for horror schlock-flick Devil's Due, gains entry to the archive due to our current obsession with public interventions and the splendid application of technology to enhance what is essentially a simple activation.
Quick recap on situations for those who have not been paying attention.
According to Debord et al a constructed situation is a ‘moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and game of events.’
A situation is designed to be lived by its participants.
It’s not just ambience, it’s an integrated ensemble of behaviour.
1. A temporary director or orchestrator.
The orchestrator is responsible for coordinating the basic elements necessary in the construction of the situation, and for conducting certain interventions.
2. Direct agents
The direct agents living the situation, who have taken part in creating the collective project and worked on the practical composition of the ambience.
3. Passive spectators
Passive spectators who have not participated in the constructive work, BUT whom can/should be forced into action.
That's the theory, and whack in some high arousal emotional response (ie physiological) and you are building those memory structures and associations nicely.
Extreme terror is obviously a tactic that should only be employed for certain categories. But when it works it works.
Presumably we're all familiar with the notion of agile, or emergent, strategy.
The key idea being around limiting up-front planning to a minimum viability based on the assumption of impermanence and unpredictability in any given situation.
Emergent strategy is structured in order to be able to quickly adapt to new conditions as they arise.
Perhaps a close cousin of lean principles, much emergent planning theory is loosely based around the Google 70-20-10* formula for product development.
A formula by which 70% of resources are devoted to Google’s core group of revenue generating activities eg search and advertising. The fabled 'googletime' 20% was supposedly allocated to self directed innovation projects that Google staff were encouraged to pursue, while the final 10% was allegedly allocated to scaling up the bits and pieces that showed promise from the 20% time.
*Turns out that the 70-20-10 Google rule is more myth and legend than anything that actually happened in practice but it's nice in theory.
So in the advertising sense, applying 70% of budget and effort towards proven activities, 20% riffing on innovations based on what is known to work and 10% on wild card experiments also sounds good in theory but one would have a hard shift explicitly pushing that idea through with most of our clients, though of course that's not to say that things can't be framed to be palatable while still being somewhat true to the theory.
[So, this is perhaps where the most value can be gained out of so-called brand 'communities'.
By that I mean the tiny fraction of a brands customer base who seem to demonstrate some degree of loyalty.
This requires reframing these customers as an 'asset' rather than an audience.
This is perhaps the hardest thing for the social media marketing fraternity to swallow.]
For instance continually generating a broad range of small-scale low cost experiments, and then scaling up the ones that gain traction in order to innovate.
Again this is nothing new. Make small bets, light small fires etc.
But my question here is really this.
Is this emergent strategy? Is this agile planning?
Or is it just good strategy?
Reading Rumelt again over the holidays I became obsessed with this nugget.
The best strategists don’t choose or decide on a strategy; they design novel responses to challenges.
Given that challenges will always appear because of the inherent unpredictability in any given situation the emergent strategy is simply good strategy.
In fact Rumelt's kernel of good strategy seems to describe emergent strategy better than a appropriation of the Google rule.
The kernel of good strategy being made up of three components:
1. A diagnosis:
The more knowledge you can glean about the problems and the implications of your strategic options, the better equipped you are to tackle a diagnosis.
2. A guiding policy:
A guiding policy is not a set of hard goals. It does not say where the brand wants to go; it's some some general rules or guidelines for helping meet the challenges from the diagnosis.
3. A set of coherent actions:
So, once we have a diagnosis and a guiding policy established, a set of coherent actions is designed to implement the guiding policy.
Rumelt reckons that too many strategists, mistake the guiding policy for the strategy and forget the action element. And I've been guilty of this myself in the past, handballing what I falsely believed to be 'strategies' (ie guiding policies) over to comms planners to map and action.
So emergent strategy is really just good strategy.
And, in fact, strategy is not a thing in itself but is only realised when the three components of the kernel are present.
Monday, January 13, 2014
I've always found it peculiar to have reviews of creative work and suchlike at the end of the working day.
While I have no data to back this up, one often finds that decisions made at these reviews will subsequently get reversed, modified or even thrown out the following day with the benefit of fresh eyes and ears.
In previous incarnations (and when it was my responsibility) I've set processes in place to allow for big decisions to be made in the early part of the day to allow for the rest of the day to be spent implementing and iterating. By the end of the day tired brains are in more of a state of flow rather than requiring big cognitive effort.
So when, at the tail end of last year, Stirling University's Behavioural Science Centre published a post on their blog highlighting their top 15 Best Behavioural Science Graphs of 2010-13 I was not surprised to see included the famous Danziger, Levav & Avnaim-Pesso (2011), Extraneous Factors in Judicial Decisions chart.
I've used this example in many presentations over the last couple of years to demonstrate the idea of ego depletion.
Ego depletion being the term used to describe the idea that things like self-control, willpower and the ability to perform tasks that require hard cognitive effort draw upon a limited supply of mental resources that can be used up. In essence a typical situation where system two type processes get too whacked out to function and therefore system one will take full control.
In the study the researchers examined over 1000 judicial rulings over a 10 month period by parole judges. The judges reviewed up to 35 parole cases per day and they took two daily food/coffee breaks (ie elevenses and lunch), and dividing the judging day into three sessions.
These break periods were pretty vital for those in the dock as the probability of the judges granting parole falls steadily from a high probability at the start of the day and just after breaks to nearly zero just before the breaks.
So the lesson being that if you find yourself in court - and presumably hope to get let off - then you want to be in front of the judge first thing in the morning or just after lunch or coffee breaks. Otherwise you'll be looking at a stretch.
Likewise, if we want to get the work right rather than just done and save on time wasted doing things over, a simple self-nudge may be to only schedule creative reviews in the mornings or right after lunchbreaks, to get the thinking bit done when there's brainjuice and get the doing done when there's flow.