Festive best wishes to all who have read, commented, shared and inspired this year.
Also special thanks to mumbrella and warc who have republished from here.
Next year is ten years since I first started writing this blog. As it's a milestone of sorts we shall endeavour to recapture some of the prolificity of earlier years that was missing a bit in 2015.
Saturday, December 26, 2015
Festive best wishes to all who have read, commented, shared and inspired this year.
Monday, December 07, 2015
‘Stranger from another planet welcome to our hole.
Just strap on your guitar and we'll play some rock 'n roll’
If some band of galaxy-wandering aliens should indeed stumble upon this planet earth, our species has one thing worthy of their attention and study.
And it’s not our science and technology, as you might immediately imagine.
Yes, we’re the only species to have achieved civilization on this planet - so far - but we would have nothing to teach them about science.
The mere presence of these extraterrestrial visitors proves that our technology must be vastly inferior. Or else we would be visiting them.
So what would aliens learn from us that has any value to them?
The biologist and author EO Wilson poses the above questions the in his tome ‘The Meaning Of Human Existence’.
Professor Wilson is Emeritus in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University - amongst other chairs - the world’s leading expert on ants and generally regarded as the ‘godfather’ of sociobiology (aka evolutionary psychology).
Wilson argues that the only thing humans have that would interest the little green men is the humanities.
Our history, philosophy and politics.
Our languages, literature and other creative arts like drama, painting and music.
Our design, architecture, our media, communications and other cultural products.
Electric guitars and that. Rock’n’Roll.
Oh yeah, and advertising.
These same products of human popular culture are to present-day anthropologists and psychologists what fossils and skeletal remains represent to paleontologists.
Although human minds do not fossilise, the cultural products created by human minds do.
Even so, most scientists would agree that the total sum of everything that humans know about (or can meaningfully, label) science is less than five hundred years old and perhaps our major cultural/technological achievement to date - the internet - has only existed for around 20 years then it’s safe to say that it’s early days in the era of science and technology on this soggy planet.
‘Theoretical physics consists of a small number of laws and a great many accidents’, according to particle physicist Murray Gell-Mann.
As a planner, and one who subscribes to the evidence-based approach, of course I lean on science to shape the development of strategy. But - similarly to theoretical physics – the very best work done in advertising and marketing has always been based on a small number of laws and a great many accidents.
The cultural fossils of advertising have been, and always will be, the creative ideas and executions.
If this all sounds misty-eyed for advertising’s past, maybe it is.
However it’s worth noting that much of the cultural fossils produced by the likes of, say, Gossage and Ogilvy in the 50s and 60s, would stand head and shoulders about most of what passes for branded content today.
If that sounds argumentum ad antiquitatem to some I’d say go look at the work and read Gossage. Many of his ideas took 40 years to permeate.
Yet I would challenge a large chunk of the marketing business with excessive argumentum ad novitatem. Routinely and repeatedly overestimating the new and modern, prematurely and without investigation.
At this time of year we are traditionally dumped upon with the predictions around which game-changing revolutions we should expect in the next 12 months. These predictions are typically prefaced with some variant of ‘technology is disrupting everything rapidly, and as a marketer, you need to be one step ahead. Or die’.
(Less headline-worthy but more accurate would be to predict that 2016 will be very similar to 2015 with the only changes being so small you’ll barely notice.)
If any little green men had landed in 2014 or 2015 then one doubts they would have been particularly impressed with how we’d been handling the business of brand building lately.
Let’s hope that one small shift is that we re-straighten our heads around the false dawn of adtech.
It’s a long way from idea-rich For Mash Get Smash to the idea void of tracking pixels and data leakage. No doubt any intergalactic visitors would chuckle at our marketing automation systems in a similar way that those celetoid alien robots did at our rudimentary potato mashers.
The rise and fall of the current version of adtech positively correlates with the false belief that communications can succeed through technology alone. This has never and will never be the case.
There are certain web companies and (nefarious) adtech and data companies who would prefer it to not be so. Former four-term Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards could just as easily be talking about them.
"Without the humanities to teach us how history has succeeded or failed in directing the fruits of technology and science to the betterment of our tribe of homo sapiens, without the humanities to teach us how to frame the discussion and to properly debate the uses-and the costs-of technology, without the humanities to teach us how to safely debate how to create a more just society with our fellow man and woman, technology and science would eventually default to the ownership of-and misuse by-the most influential, the most powerful, the most feared among us."
The ongoing search to unravel the human condition is based on uncovering and analyzing the products of human creativity.
In the advertising/marketing/content business, this is the stuff we produce.
The humanities and cultural fossils.
It needs to be great and creative because it’s a reflection of us.
‘But the money's no good,
Just get a grip on yourself’
Thursday, December 03, 2015
[This post originally appeared in November as one of my regular articles for warc.com]
In 1934, the young Rosser Reeves left his small town home in Danville, Virginia, for the bright lights of New York City, following his dream of working as an advertising copywriter.
Within a few years he had landed a plum job at the Ted Bates Advertising Agency and by 1950 he was vice-president and head of copy, rising to chairman of the board in 1955.
Then in 1961 he published his first book Reality of Advertising, a large portion of which was devoted to Reeves’s principal legacy (and the ‘secret’ to the phenomenal success of Bates in the 1950s) – the unique selling proposition (USP).
(Incidentally, the Don Draper character from Mad Men is generally agreed to be an amalgam of several of the leading ad figures of the time, including Reeves. George Lois and Draper Daniels are the others most often referenced.)
Anyway, Reeves defined a USP has having three main parts. Each ad must contain a proposition – ‘Buy Brand X and you get this specific benefit’. The proposition must be unique to the brand – something that competitors can’t offer. The proposition must sell – it must be something that will, for example, convince consumers to switch brands.
To this day the requirement for and persuasive power of a USP is perhaps the most commonly held belief in agencies of all flavours.
Almost any variant of a creative brief will contain box for the ‘proposition’. Or the ‘one-thing-we-must-say’.
It sounds confident and plausible, but the truth of the matter is that the idea of a USP was simply something Reeves made up, was based on exactly zero evidence, no research and – as Paul Feldwick points out in his Anatomy of Humbug (a must-read for those with an interest in the history of these matters) – not even on a semi-coherent theory.
Slightly less well known is that propagating the USP notion was a deliberate strategy employed by Reeves to distance his own agency, and the industry as a whole, from a more dangerous idea being touted by one Vance Packard via his 1957 book The Hidden Persuaders.
Packard’s best-seller ‘revealed’ for the first time the psychological manipulations and mind control techniques that the evil ad industry – aided by foreign psychologists and subliminal advertising – used in order to make Americans want stuff they didn’t need.
This fear was possibly a lingering by-product from the Cold War with Russia that had unfolded from the late 1940s, the concern that America was being infiltrated by communism – the ‘reds under the bed’ – and their stock-in-trade mind-control techniques.
Reeves was clear in his point of view: “There are no hidden persuaders. Advertising works openly, in the bare and pitiless sunlight.”
In a way Reeves’s USP notion may simply have been a strategy to defend the entire industry against the scare tactics of the likes of Packard. He didn’t believe in it particularly, but if it got the ‘investigative’ journalists off the scent then it was all good.
Yet the USP prevails to this day and, what’s more, it has spawned several other equally unquantified yet stated-as-fact marketing theories like ‘differentiation’ and ‘positioning’.
Sadly, consumers are not up to speed with these theories and tend to buy popular brands they have heard of and/or used before. And brand loyalty – while it absolutely exists – is, for the most part, a simplification strategy employed by consumers to avoid having to think too much rather than having anything to do with brand-love.
Many marketers still also believe that changing customer retention rates is cheaper than improving customer acquisition, and that asking customers their likelihood of recommending the brand is a predictor of brand growth. This is known as the Net Promoter Score devised by Frederick Reichheld, also responsible for the prevailing and widely believed myth that a five per cent drop in customer defections leads to 80 per cent plus increase in profits.
There is scant scientific evidence to credit any of these theories (in the Reichheld five per cent defection case – the maths proves it to be absolutely false), and yet they are widely believed to be facts.
In this world of content marketing I’ve noticed another curious idea often present – that native advertising or sponsored content should not explicitly promote or reference the brand sponsoring the piece.
This is believed by some practitioners to be overly ‘shilling’ or inauthentic, and therefore will be rejected by readers as ‘advertising’.
But is there any evidence to support this view?
A recent report commissioned by AOL and presented at ESOMAR Congress Dublin in September 2015 titled ‘What normative data says about effectiveness’ looked at sponsored content (native/advertorial) within Huffington Post and some of its other digital publishing properties.
On the topic of branding within sponsored content, and after scrutinising the data, author Christian Kugel came to the conclusion that: “Not only do activations with heavier brand integration perform better to drive higher recall and consideration, the content itself is also rated directionally more favorably.
“One would expect that content with less brand presence would be more favorable, so the fact that this shows an equivalent measure is excellent news for brands as well as publishers involved in content marketing. It means that we do not have to be afraid to push for heavier brand presence and integration. It is a fascinating revelation and a counter-intuitive insight coming out of the data.”
Kugel’s findings in the area of content marketing and sponsored content seem to correspond with what we’ve begun to understand about the science of sharing in the video space thanks to Dr Karen Nelson-Field from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.
In her landmark 2013 study, Nelson-Field found there was no detrimental impact on how much sharing across the social web a video achieved relating to the level of branding used.
Not only that, the evidence suggested that overt branding has no impact on a video’s ability to illicit an emotional response.
These findings also run counter to the industry’s conventional ‘wisdom’, which suggests removing branding or keeping it to an absolute minimum.
“It turns out that consumers have a higher threshold than many practitioners initially assumed,” says Christian Kugel.
It turns out that a lot of what the industry believes is based on assumption, received wisdom and a complicated set of Chinese whispers dating as far back as the 1940s.
Just because certain beliefs are popular, doesn’t mean they are right.
This situation isn’t helpful for poor modern brand marketers. Let’s not forget they are grappling with all kinds of new problems in 2015, many more than their predecessors in past decades.
These new problems include making sense of new-fangled ideas like 'digital disruption', 'big data', navigating the implications of programmatic media buying and getting their heads around the ever-growing number of channels available to potentially reach consumers.
Luckily, recent developments in marketing science and behavioural science are giving us a much better view of how categories typically behave, models to better understand the patterns that underpin what people buy and the types of strategies buyers use to simplify buying decisions.
And it turns out that creativity and science are much better friends than many would have you believe.
Wednesday, December 02, 2015
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.
It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.
The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
- C.S. Lewis
Posted by eaon pritchard at Wednesday, December 02, 2015
Friday, September 04, 2015
Friday, August 28, 2015
Lions have a couple of principal hunting methods.
It is a plague. It interferes with virtually everything we try to do on the web. It has cheapened and debased advertising. It has helped spawn criminal empires. It is in part responsible for unprecedented fraud and corruption. It has turned marketing executives into clueless baboons. And it is destroying the idea of privacy, one of the backbones of democracy.’
Monday, June 08, 2015
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
This requires subconscious (and conscious) brand cues throughout, fuelling the content-addressable memory. Branded neuro-richness, if you prefer.
Friday, May 15, 2015
On the evening of 31 May 1972 in Rotterdam, Ajax of Amsterdam defeat Internazionale of Milan 2-0 - via two second-half goals from Johan Cruyff - to win the European Champions cup for the second successive year.
The Times reported ‘Ajax proved that creative attack is the real lifeblood of the game; that blanket defence can be outwitted and outmanoeuvred, and by doing so they made the outlines of the night a little sharper and the shadows a little brighter.’
This game is often said to be totaalvoetbal’s finest moment.
The Dutch press trumpeted ‘The Inter system undermined. Defensive football is destroyed.’
The Inter system, or catenaccio was a tactical system in football with a strong emphasis on defence.
The system had been employed most notably and successfully by Helenio Herrera, coach for the great Internazionale team - known as Grande Inter - in the latter half of the1960s.
Inter dominated domestic Italian football during this period and when they won three Scudetti, two European Champions Cups and two Intercontinental Cups.
Herrera adapted the traditional Italian 5–3–2 formation known as the verrou (door bolt) - a parking-the-bus approach focused on preventing opponents goal-scoring opportunities - to include the new idea of the swift counter-attack.
Counter-attacking being a rapid back-to-the-front tactic typically beginning with long passes from the defence catching opponents out of position while they are focused on attacking manuevers.
Key to the catenaccio system – and rapid counter-attacking - was the introduction of the role of a libero or sweeper. The libero is a free creative defender who operates behind a line of three defenders, ‘sweeping up’ loose balls, double-marking and setting up counter-attacks from behind the defence.
The Grande Inter team were captained by libero Armando Picchi.
Though perhaps the most famous sweeper of all is the German, Franz Beckenbauer.
The irony of this fact shall become apparent.
Herrera was also notable introducing motivational psych tactics and was good for a few one-liners.
‘Class + Preparation + Intelligence + Athleticism = Championships’
But while Inter and catenaccio were dominating European football a new development began to emerge in the Netherlands.
Totaalvoetbal, (total football) pioneered by Ajax of Amsterdam, under the guidance of coach Rinus Michels emerged from around 1965, flourished between 1970 and 1974, and that one night in May 1972 appeared to have effectively killed Herrera's catenaccio stone dead.
To observers at the time totaalvoetbal, seemed to be the antithesis of catenaccio.
For a start, totaalvoetbal is an attack-oriented strategy.
A pro-active approach. There is no counter-attacking, total football works by constant positional interchange among the players, pressing hard to gain and keep possession while preventing the opposition from having the ball.
The genius of total football was its agile approach.
NO player is fixed in his role; anyone can assume the role of an attacker, a midfielder or a defender, depending on the nature of the play.
In the 1970-73 era Ajax dominated the domestic Dutch league and won three successive European Cups. In 1972, after Ajax defeated Inter 2–0 in that European Cup final the experts confidently announced the victory as the ‘destruction of catenaccio’ .
The final nail in the catenaccio coffin was the following year as Ajax destroyed Milan 6–0 to lift the European Super Cup.
While seemingly polar opposites in approach - catenaccio being defence oriented, totaalvoetbal attack based – there are commonalities.
The Dutch striker Johan Cruyff, for example, was totaalvoetbal’s poster child.
Cruyff was officially a centre forward, however he played all over the pitch, starting attacks from wherever he could collect a pass.
Cruyff's teammates had to adapt themselves flexibly around his movements, regularly switching positions so that the team kept its shape, although the positions were filled by anyone.
In a sense the Cruyff role was the attacking free role version of the defensive libero of the Grande Inter era.
Cruyff summed up his (total football) philosophy:
"Simple football is the most beautiful. But playing simple football is the hardest thing."
The 1970/71 Ajax coach Michels was later appointed Dutch national team coach for the 1974 FIFA World Cup in Germany.
Unsurprisingly, most of the 1974 squad were players from Ajax and rivals Feyenoord (who also played a style similar to the Ajax totaalvoetbal).
The Dutch cruised through their first and second round matches, defeating Argentina 4–0, East Germany 2–0, and holders Brazil 2–0 to set up a final with hosts West Germany, which they were expected to win.
So, when Johan Neeskens scored from the penalty spot to give the Netherlands a 1–0 lead within 80 seconds of play (and before a German player had even touched the ball) totaalvoetbal’s moment on the global stage seemed to be imminent.
However, the German defenders Beri Vogts and – in a throwback to the Inter catenaccio system – libero Franz Beckenbauer, were able to snuff out Cruyff's influence, dominate midfield, and went on to win 2-1.
Using the same strategy, the Dutch reached the 1978 World Cup final only to fall once more at the final hurdle, this time to Argentina.
Perhaps totaalvoetbal could be countered?
Perhaps defensive football was not destroyed?
Though neither the ’74 German side, nor the ’78 Argentina team would be described as defensive, in the catenaccio sense.
Even Beckenbauer, in his sweeper role, often played further up the pitch into midfield.
While both the park-the-bus and counter-attack of catenaccio, and the all-out-attack of totaalvoetbal, had each delivered success in the short term it turns out that neither strategy was enough on its own .
Just like how ‘performance’ based direct digital marketing that seeks to capture intent and convert will not deliver long term effects on its own, without the presence of brand building work, conducted consistently over time to create demand.
Just this week, Amsterdam’s own Martin Weigel addressed this very issue, in a long piece - that is worth taking the time to digest in its entirety – a section of which is quoted below..
‘Under pressure to account for our activities and to show that they are having an effect (any effect) and hooked on the crack cocaine of the short-term, we seize on intermediate metrics…like crazed junkies desperate for the next fix.
This data might be exciting, it might be highly responsive to communications activity, it might be easy to measure, and it might give us impressive sounding numbers to use in case study videos, but it is short-term data that tells us nothing about the long-term business effects of our efforts.
Worse, our holding up of short-term metrics that simply measure the exposure of consumers to our ideas as evidence of our success relegates our contribution to the mere distribution of content. And so – such is our appetite for evidence that something happened in the short-term – we relentlessly conspire to render the creation of enduring ideas, the building of memories, the shaping of perceptions, preferences, and behaviours a trivial side-show.
The very things which that are the source of our value as an industry, and the generators of sustainable value for brands and businesses.’
The way forward is not this OR that, but this AND that.
Johan Cruyff, at the end of his playing career now knew this.
He took over as coach of Barcelona in1988 and continued through to 1996.
During this time Cruyff introduced a new theory.
Cruyff’s revelation incorporated the purism of totaalvoetbal and the pragmatism of catenaccio.
Not this OR that, but this AND that.
Characterised by zonal play, short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession tiki-taka is associated with Barcelona from Johan Cruyff's era through to the present, and also the Spanish national team.
Crucially, Tiki-taka is "both defensive and offensive in equal measure" – the team is always in possession, so never needs to switch between defending and attacking.
Tiki-taka – as employed by the Spanish national team has won them Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
And also continues to be used by arguably the greatest club team in the world, Barcelona, which have won two European Champion’s League titles in recent years while also co-dominating Spanish domestic football (alongside the slightly more pragmatic Real Madrid).
Tika-taka has been described as the most difficult version of football possible: an uncompromising passing game, coupled with intense, high pressing.
To the same token, combining direct response with long term brand-building - 'brand response' - is not easy either. In fact it's perhaps the most difficult form of marketing possible.
Further in Martin Wiegel’s article he points out:
‘The short-term is invariably easier to manage and measure than the long-term…what is important, and what is easy to measure, are not always the same thing. We forget the distinction between the important and the easy at our peril.’
Cruyff, similarly is wary of being data or performance driven at the expense of all else.
'I find it terrible when talents are rejected based on computer data. Based on the criteria at Ajax now I would have been rejected. When I was 15, I couldn’t kick a ball 15 meters with my left and maybe 20 with my right. My qualities - technique and vision - are not detectable by a computer’.
Wednesday, May 06, 2015
Tuesday, May 05, 2015
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Behaviour change 101 (actually there are a few but this is one) decrees that in order to move a behaviour then making adjustments to the environment in which the behaviour occurs can be very effective.
Many of your classic nudges play to this principle.
The fly 'target' in urinals, mirrors at the cake counter and the eyes on the poster behind the honesty box, for example.
Road safety is one of those areas that is problematic for those trying to modify behaviour.
Speeding in particular.
Often Road Safety communications have relied on fear campaigns or threats of death or punishment, however theres a mountain of research that suggests framing any kind of road use as ‘death-defying’ is not always a good strategy, it can be (unconsciously) received as a kind of challenge, especially among males.
It's also apparent that the only real feedback we get about our behaviour on the road is when its too late. We get a speeding ticket, nearly hit another road user or get hit ourselves.
Even armed with this knowledge, making environmental interventions is hard.
There have been some decent attempts, including the rightly celebrated Swedish Speed Camera Lottery - developed for Volkwagen's Fun Theory project - whereby drivers driving at or below the speed limit were photograhed and entered into a prize lottery, the winnings were funded came from the fines collected from fining the drivers who did not obey the speed limit.
What this also demonstrated is that, government and policy can only go so far.
On the road interventions can only go so far.
The real environment where the behaviour occurs is inside the vehicle (and inside the drivers head).
All of which is why we were attracted to the experiment in the video below. conducted for Volkswagen in New Zealand by our friends at Colenso BBDO.
'In a controlled experiment, we created a replacement panel for the speedo in four Volkswagen Golfs. They followed all of the clarity and safety restrictions of a standard speedo, but the dial was personally hand written by a loved one. This simple, personal mnemonic aims to remind drivers what they have to live for at the exact moment they consider speeding.'
Aside from the techno wizardry the interesting thing for us was the core behavioural nugget at the centre of the idea.
It's been well documented that priming people with pictures of babies faces can trigger caring and nurturing behaviour in adults.
So by inserting primes of the drivers own children right into the operations of the vehicle - amplifying the prime with a bit of extra Darwinian urgency - makes it extra cool.
For agency types it's also encouraging to see our peers being properly engaged by their clients in using their smarts to experiment around problems other than those that are exclusively communications or advertising.
By all accounts the experiment nudged the subjects driving behaviour in this instance - albeit a small sample - but its easy to imagine subsequent iterations or adaptations using this kind of thinking to address other problem driving behaviour (drink driving? spacial awareness re: cyclists etc are just two) and from a commercial standpoint then as a mass customisation tool, on a global level, then it's easy to see the possibilities.
File under: designing environments to optimise the chances of a desirable behaviour, through (at least partly) unconscious influence.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Turns out there was nothing much to see, it was a picture of a big house.
Except now it was a picture of a big house reposted on hundreds of websites and the 'problem' (that was never really a problem) was a thousand time worse.
As a card-carrying fatty myself, perhaps I should be joining them.
It's also reasonable to argue Dove's semi-real time response mimicking the Protein World branding and creative treatment simply helped amplify 'recognition' value for the original, given the almost invisible nature of the Dove branding. For the distracted and indifferent consumer (ie just about everyone) the 'parody' could, for al intents and purposes, be just another extension of that 'beach body' thing that they vaguely remember hearing something about.
[*UPDATE 10.23am* It's been pointed out to me that the Dove parody was not an official Dove communication, but was still widely shared so the point is still valid]
A cursory Google search on Beach Body or Bikini Body even, throws up thousands of articles, diets, sports nutrition and fitness DVDs all illustrated in a similar manner, and presented by brands like Cosmopolitan, Womens Health mag and suchlike.
Protein World will perhaps just accept their good fortune, in having caught this week's wave of conspicuous outrage - or what James Bartholemew in the Spectator this week called virtue signalling.
Not exactly the Streisand Effect, but enough is enough.