Friday, September 28, 2012

new york city

We are currently loving this stop motion video from director Greg Jardin for the late great Joey Ramone’s 'New York City.' - a splendid, and joyous love song to his home town.

The tune is taken from the posthumous album, '…ya know?' - a collection of previously unavailable sketches and demos retrieved from Joey's post-Ramones sessions and archives.

Among the the 'cast' in the clip are Ramones long time producers Ed Stasium and Tommy Ramone (also of course the original drummer), Andrew WK (whatever happened to him, btw?) plus assorted members of equally legendary punkers The Dictators, and a selection of interesting looking regular New Yorkers who happened to be passing by.

Don't know how my NYC friends and readers feel, but if the New York City tourism office are thinking of launching a new ad campaign any time soon, then I would humbly suggest that they look no further than this piece.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

one of the problems with Australian advertising

At Sputnik Planning Labs we love our cognitive biases; and a particular favourite is the one sometimes called 'the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon' or more commonly the 'frequency illusion'.

This particular foible being the illusion in which a word, name, phrase or other thing that has recently come to one's attention suddenly appears 'everywhere' with ridiculous frequency.

So, if you've never heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, never fear, you'll absolutely be hearing about it again soon.

In this case it's the phrase 'world class', and the context principally Australian advertising.

This or that campaign or spot is 'world class'. This CD/Planner/other is 'world class', this or that agency are 'world-class'.

To boot, I was chatting with an acquaintance who is a very senior Professor in Melbourne the other week who informed me that this 'rating' is similarly applied to the scoring of academic papers in his University.

A top mark qualifies a study as 'world class'.

World class then, being clearly up a notch from simply Australian class.

Herein lies the problem.

It's a classic example of another of our favourite cognitive traps coming in to play; the worse-than-average effect in which people will routinely seriously underestimate their own ability to do stuff in comparison to their perceived ability of others.

When does one ever hear of 'world class' work coming from London or New York for example?

Hardly ever.

Because agencies these markets don't feel the need to benchmark* themselves against any other territory.

(*In fact 'benchmarking' itself is another hideous trap, but we'll cover that one another time.)

The work is what it is.

It's either great or not great.

C'mon Australia. It ain't where you're from, it's where you're at.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

vip mail

If you've upgraded your iPhone to iOS6 then you may have noticed the VIP mail setting in the email fuction.

For users it’s a way to flag certain contacts as VIPs and have their emails appear in the special VIP section in your mail.

Simply put, this means you potentially never miss messages from people that you want/need to hear from.

Priority mail has been around in Gmail for a while, of course, but VIP seems extra handy as it's device based and it's super-easy to aggregate contacts from different accounts for the non-geeky.

This is not to say 'email-is-dead' but is further testament to the idea that effectiveness of communication correlates directly to the existing level of permission.

Another nail in the coffin of unsolicited spam, and a pointer to perhaps a renaissance for email as a viable channel.

Friday, September 21, 2012

whoops now

Over the last goodness knows how many years I have either worked on or pitched on a dozen or so campaigns and projects for Breast Cancer Charity organisations.

And since 1993, when Janet Jackson's 'Janet' album was released featuring the now iconic sepia toned shot of Ms Jackson being supported, I must have presented an adaptation of that shot several times.

Much to my relief the idea has finally been used as part of a promotion by UK Breast Cancer charity Coppafeel featuring ex-Spice Girl Mel B as 'Janet'.

So thanks to Coppafeel and their agency (if there was one), the idea may or may not be great but it's a terrific relief to know it will never have to be wheeled out again.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Fear is a pretty powerful emotion and when confronted with fear humans seem to be wired to recoil first and ask questions second.

As a result, fear can be pretty easily sparked in such a way that is instinctive and not subject to rationality.

In fact, many phobias are firmly rooted in irrational fear - monsters and clowns for example - while other fears are rooted in more automatic areas of associated memory - fear is a pretty efficient survival tool, learning to look both ways before crossing the road it's a pretty vital early skill to learn.

Emotional manifestations of fear include things like apprehension, terror, dread and panic.

In advertising a 'fear appeal' is a type of psychoactive trigger that is often used to evoke an emotional response in the participant regarding the effect of other automatic behaviours.

This spot from Finland clearly plays to that, showing how children are affected by parents drinking habits.

A few people have pinged me this with a footnote around 'there you go, using emotions in shaping behaviour'.

But exactly how much fear induces behaviour change or a simply a looking-the-other-way is another question. I don't know.

Compare the Finnish spot to this one about teen smoking in Texas, which uses the social norms nudge '8 out of 10 Texas teens don't smoke' and a large dose of teen humour to tackle the problem.

The problems are somewhat different but I have still a wee hunch that addressing what is a social norm (parents bad drinking habits in the presence of children) with a 'fear appeal', while ultimately more effective than an information or gawd-help-us 'educational' appeal, would be more effective still, in the long game, by promoting a new social norm.

'Most parents with under-5's say one is enough', for example.

That said, it's a pretty powerful spot.


We do a lot of work in the NFP-charity sector and, regardless of media, storytelling is the probably single most powerful tactic we have to try and move behaviour.

Often this takes the form of dramatising the experience of the beneficiary.

And while direct mail is the default first tool in the box for many NFPs, I'm always mindful that film is pretty much the unbeatable storytelling medium.

I'd normally be on the side of happy endings being more effective, there's fairly robust science to back that up, but occasionally something comes along in this category with a surprising twist and proves the exception to the rule.

For me, this film made for The St John's Ambulance service is another example of this almost situationist trend for communications that incriminate the audience.

The story reflects new research from St John Ambulance which shows that over four times as many people believe that more people die from cancer than a lack of first aid - an availability cascade - when there is compelling evidence and statistics to indicate that the danger of choking, for example, is at least as frequent.

(On a minor tactical note, and bearing in mind that 'virality' is going to be an important mechanic for this spot, the 'surprise' element of how the piece ends up is somewhat spoiled by the labeling of the film on You Tube)

Friday, September 14, 2012

first look at the iPhone 5?

Thanks to Mike in the Sputnik Creative Lab who pointed me to this skit from the ABC show Jimmy Kimmel Live.

JKs people went out onto the streets to ask the public to evaluate the new iPhone 5.

In a splendid demonstration of visual and verbal priming many of the participants reported the new device to be lighter or heavier, faster, bigger or benefiting from improved design.

Of course there was no iPhone 5, all the participants were looking at a regular iPhone 4S.

Thus proving that special ability humans have to post-rationalise percieved product features and benefits with System 2 following our automatic story building System 1 response based on whatever available information we have.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

larry, woody and me

Some comedians and comedy writers would make excellent planners.

Larry David would have been a classic, for instance.

'Anyone can be confident with a full head of hair. But a confident bald man - there's your diamond in the rough.'


'If you tell the truth about how you're feeling, it becomes funny.'

Insight, is the comedy writers stock in trade.

In fact a cheat I often use when looking for nuggets around any given topic is to search for jokes about it.

We're working with a mental health not-for-profit, so of course I went straight to Woody Allen to see what I could find.

'More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.'

'Most of the time I don’t have much fun. The rest of the time I don’t have any fun at all.'


'My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.'

Unfortunately the reverse is not true. I've not met that many planners who were great comedians.

Not intentionally anyway.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

momentum and strategy

I've always thought that the single most valuable skill of a strategist or planner, if you prefer, is the ability to be constantly on the alert, noticing things and then interpreting them.

This is called having insight.

It doesn't have to be an earth shattering revelation, just 'apprehending the true nature of things'.

Our thanks then go to our Tahlia, in the Sputnik Insight and Planning Lab, who noticed this yesterday and pointed the rest of us to it.

An excellent short sequence of heavily loaded tweets - posted below - from the Obama 2012 campaign that clearly demonstrates that - despite Cass R. Sunstein's recent departure from the Obama camp - applied behavioural economics are still very much part of the Obama strategy.

Before Charlie gets at me, a quick note that this post is merely an observation on a piece of the Obama communications strategy, I'm not close enough to the policies debate or other political issues in the US to be voicing any informed opinion.

(My own representativeness heuristic does, however, lead me towards feeling that Baz is the the choice most capable for the next term, so there you go.)

A quick look at a couple of the key tweets.

'317,954 who gave were giving for the first time'
In psychology this is called the Bandwagon effect or Herding – this influences our tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same.

Also known as social proof.

This is all about momentum-as-strategy.
Despite Obama being the current Prez and therefore extremely popular with a section of the electorate there are still more (a lot more) NEW people joining the cause.

This acts as a sort-of counter availability heuristic to the neck-and-neck nature of the race as described by the opinion polls (always the scourge of momentum and often the hardest battle).

If I'm unsure about which side to back then this statement is indicating clearly that there's a groundswell for Baz's camp, something is going on.

'$5 or $10 helped, most donations were under $250 but the average was $58'
This is a clever tweet that combines a framing effect plus anchoring and a bit of herding.

Once the anchor is set, there is a bias toward adjusting or interpreting other information to reflect the "anchored" information.

This tweet anchors us on the high figure of 250 (probably too much to contemplate as a donation) however $58 seems reasonable

And that's the average i.e. That's what most people are giving. Those who gave $5-$10 are thanked but clearly are being encouraged to rethink their donation based on the social norm - $58.

The final tweet of the sequence - endings are very important in the efficacy of communications of course - adds the sense of urgency with a clear direct instruction to act. 'RT this link, right now".

The link goes to the donation page, and, wahey!, the page title is 'Build the Momentum: Donate today'.

In his paper 'Understanding how behaviour shapes strategy' Mark Earls concluded with the following paragraph, one which I seem to have commited to memory and find myself oft to recount when talking with clients about strategy.

'...wouldn’t it be useful to think about strategy in terms of momentum?
Strategy as being primarily how to create a sense of momentum in our favour?
About creating the sense that we, staff, customers, citizens or investors are moving more andmore towards something? Or that more of us are doing so?
Or that our velocity in any given direction is getting faster?
And if this is right, shouldn’t we start to judge all strategy by the sense that it is creating or sustaining momentum?'

Anyway, let's notice how the rest of the campaign unfolds.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

the planners dream goes wrong

In an experiment two participants were given boxes of lego bricks and instructions on how to build a simple robot from the bricks.

The participants earned two dollars for the first robot they built, then a subsequent fee for each additional robot on a decreasing scale of 11 cents per robot.
So robot 2 earned them 1 dollar 89, third robot 1 dollar 78 etc etc.
The participants could continue building robots for as long as they felt motivated. Both participants were told that their robots would be dismantled and the bricks re-used for the next participant.

Condition 1.
The first robot builder managed 10 builds before packing in and received $15.05 in payment.

The researcher took each of his ten constructed robots, placed them carefully in a box, in clear view, beside his table upon completion.

Condition 2
The second participant only built four robots and received payment of $7.34. Each of his four constructed robots was dismantled immediately upon completion by the researcher.

Throughout the day condition 1 robot builders averaged 10.6 robots.
Condition 2 robot builders average 7.2 robots.
The economic reward for the activity was the same for both conditions, yet the participants in the 'meaningful' condition – the ones who could witness the progress of their work – were motivated to keep building robots.

The condition 2 participants – for whom the task had no meaning – were much less motivated to continue.

This is a short version of a longer story that features in Dan Ariely's 'The Upside of Irrationality'.

I wonder if any of the planner fraternity can relate?


up the bracket

The popular image of Karl Marx is the old fella with a big beard.

I get a better feeling for the man - pretty much the founder of modern sociology - with this picture of the young Karl looking like an imaginary second guitar in the Libertines.

"It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness."

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

beer chase

I would be slightly disingenuous if I did not state that the following sticks in my craw somewhat, but Clems' new Carlton Draught spot, 'Beer Chase', is great.

However, if I was going to be picky (yes, I am) - and this was something I used to repeat during my time at the agency over and over - then I would pick on the following.

If one is making a movie, and therefore giving life to a story, then there's a lot of other stuff that needs to be considered.

Until there's a better word to describe this process then we are stuck with the term 'transmedia storytelling'.

If people connect with the content - and they are, at the time of writing the clip has racked up 1.8million views on You Tube - then it's a massive missed opportunity to not create a bigger story world.

For instance.

Who are these characters?

How did they end up in America?

What happened to the money?

What are the other concurrent narratives?

The spot ends with a point to the Carlton Draught website, perhaps this will be where more of the narrative is revealed? Nope.

For the previous Carlton Draught film 'Slo-Mo', I fought to have #carltondraught hashtag on the end, this was a new idea back in 2010 which has become the norm.

A #beerchase tag to prod for conversation would have been more appropriate than pointing to a static website where there is no extension.

While I was at Clems, Draught's long standing agency, we often mused that Carlton Draught had the potential to truly transcend the beer category and could be viewed more as an entertainment brand, one for which the beer was really a marketing mechanism for the overall cultural brand.

Like a Converse perhaps?

It's a cool bit of film, funny and bang on for the brand and no doubt an award certainty in the film bucket but I still believe there's a big opportunity for Carlton Draught to be a bigger iconic Australian brand if only they could be broken out of the category mindset.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

always be closing the nylon curtain

I've no truck with so-called guilty pleasures.

I honestly don't have time to pretend to like stuff that I don't care about for the sake of some irony or fear of seriousness.

I'm deadly serious about music.

Like Keith Richards said, it's about discernement.

Knowing what the shit is, and what isn't the shit.

I love the first four or five Billy Joel albums. Maybe even six.

They are most definitely the shit. He never became big in the UK really until 'Uptown Girl', but his best stuff predates that.

Check out this interview Billy did with Alec Baldwin for WNYC's 'Here's The Thing'. The two of them riffing off of each other like a Long Island version of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.

Even if you're not a fan I guarantee you'll hear him differently afterwards.

Alec Baldwin is the shit too. If only because he's responsible for one of the finest 8 minutes or so of cinema history in GlenGarry Glen Ross, as the salesman with balls of steel.

Always. Be. Closing.

Billy also knows a thing or two about what's important to the artist, or communicator who wants to connect an audience.