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.

The vast majority of the horrible Elvis records were made during his bad movie period of 1960 – 67, immediately following his stint in the army.

But the pivotal moment for Elvis was what has become known as the ‘68 Comeback Special’.

The show, simply titled ‘Elvis’, went out on December 3, 1968 on the NBC television network.

The back-to-basics and black leather clad Elvis hooked up with some old bandmates from the 56-58 vintage years period in a stripped down rock’n’roll jam session, interspersed with a nod to the ‘future’ grown-up Elvis oeuvre via bigger soulful numbers like ‘In The Ghetto’ and the epic ‘If I Can Dream’.

But here’s the question.

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

In The Origins of Genius the psychologist Dean Simonton argues that creativity can best be understood as a Darwinian process of variation and selection.

The successful artist generates a ton of ideas, and then subjects these ideas to some sort of judging criteria, then lets loose only those that appear to have the best chance to survive and reproduce.

Then some do and some don’t.

The true test of genius is the ability to bequeath an impressive and influential body of work to future generations.

Simonten argues that ‘Quality, is a probabilistic function of quantity.”

Taking up this argument then, it may indeed follow that the simple difference between Elvis and the thousands of one-hit-wonders or wannabe rock’n’rollers that amounted to nothing much in the fifties and sixties isn’t necessarily that he had a better ratio of hits to misses.

The difference is that the mediocre might have a few half-decent ideas, whereas Elvis was exponentially more prolific in his output.

Because Elvis put out such a vast number of ‘experiments’ it was almost inevitable that some would end up being great.

Simonton’s point is that there is nothing neat and efficient about creativity.

‘The more successes there are, the more failures there are as well’.

The creative person who can pump out more ideas than the rest of us will have far more bad ideas than the rest of us, too. But, critically, they will probably also have more good ideas.

Fluctuation in fortune is ‘regression to the mean’.
In the case of Elvis, the 60-67 mediocrity blip, was indeed a blip.

A strange outcome is usually followed by something much more ordinary.

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

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

This is somewhat true, INDIVIDUAL successes are hard - perhaps impossibly hard - to predict.
It’s only after-the-fact that it seems TO BE CLEAR why something took off.

To look at a more recent pop example when South Korean rapper/producer Psy and his mates were in the studio cranking out 'Gangnam Style' in 2012, NO WAY were they strategizing for a global phenomenon.

They were hoping for another hit in South Korea, where he was already huge.

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

Similarly, PSY knows that his chances repeating the unprecedented phenomenon of ‘Gangnam Style’ is extremely unlikely because of regression to the mean.

It’s important that we understand this in advertising, embracing unpredictability, not getting carried away with huge successes and not worry too much about the odd flop.

But for an advertiser or agency who have the working practices in place that allow them to continually produce quality, they should expect to be able continue to produce quality, if they stay on their game.

In one creative department I worked in – perhaps the most successful in Australia in recent years – operated on this principle (perhaps intuitively, or perhaps there were unspoken Darwinian philosophies at play).

At the end of each day creative teams would file in to present their work to the creative leadership.

They might well have been presenting the greatest idea in the history of advertising but would almost inevitably be sent away to improve it or come back with further ideas the next day. Nothing got by on first (or even second) pass.

If there was time then the work could always be made better.

If there wasn’t time, the suits would make it their business to buy time.

In this spirit, the '68 Special highpoint, ‘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.

The number was a last-minute replacement for a schmaltzy Christmas number that Elvis’s manager, Colonel Parker, had originally wanted.

But the King put his foot down, and ‘…Dream’ became effectively Elvis' post-rock'n'roll career defining moment.

Mediocrity produces fewer ideas, every now and again one 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’.

A Darwinian creative approach means producing more ideas, more often knowing the best of them will survive and reproduce.

There must be lights burning brighter somewhere.
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue.

Quality, is a probabilistic function of quantity.

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.'