Thursday, May 16, 2013

out of reach and beyond dispute

While we are on the subject of the spectacular this keynote by Robert Scoble from the recent TNW Europe conference felt like sychronicity.

If ever there was an instance of the spectacle manifesting itself as an enormous positivity, out of reach and beyond dispute this is it.

Scoble, with his umpteen Android devices, ipad, lapel camera taking photos every ten seconds, Google Glass (natch) and....wait for it....techno waistcoat!, has morphed into some kind of singularity-caricature techno-celebrity cartoon, a spectacular representations of a living human being projected into life in 3D.

An image of self-commodification, alienation and of social life taken over by the accumulated products of the tech economy.


As I'm re-reading Debord this week this excerpt seems appropriate'For the spectacle, as the perfect image of the economic order, ends are nothing and development is all although the only thing into which the spectacle plans to develop is itself'.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

the spectacular moments of commodity society

The Hungarian Postmodernist-Marxist philosopher György Lukács is credited as the author of the idea of reification.

For Lukács reification literally translates as the 'objectification' - of social life or social relationships and their subsequently re-expression as relationships between objects rather than people - as characterised by many aspects of what we would describe as 'consumer' culture.

'Objectification' has become a bit of a skunk word, the gobbledygook end of postmodernism have ran with it.

But, in simple terms, Lukács is describing a process by which the previously 'authentic' experience is transformed and then rendered 'inauthentic' by its incorporation into the totality (the all-pervasive supremacy of the whole over the parts) resulting in alienation.

One of the most quoted descriptions of contemporary consumer-culture alienation is in this passage from Don Delillo’s 1985 novel White Noise.

White Noise* is widely regarded as a case-in-point post-modern work, however we shall not hold that against it.

*In a detournement footnote, apparently DeLillo originally wanted to title the book Panasonic, but the Panasonic Corporation injuncted. Fact fans.

The characters, Jack and Babette Gladney return home from a trip to the supermarket:

'It seemed to me that Babette and I, in the mass and variety of our purchases, in the sheer plenitude those crowded bags suggested, the weight and size and number, the familiar designs and vivid lettering, the giant sizes, the family bargain packs with Day-Glo sale stickers, in the sense of replenishment we felt, the sense of well-being, the security and contentment these products brought to some snug home in our souls – it seemed we had achieved a fullness of being that is not known to people who need less, expect less, who plan their lives around lonely walks in the evening.'

The most striking contemporary example of this kind of reification is, of course, Facebook.
And in particular the the notion of Facebook 'friends'.

In which the idea of 'friendship' - an aspect of authentic social life and social relationships - that has, in effect, been 'objectified' and indeed commodified by Facebook.

Indeed, within Facebook we even refer of ourselves in the third person. Eaon shared person x's photo and so on.

The 'friend' product is, of course, core to Facebook's business model and monetisation strategy.

We will all be familiar by now with the point that, in the Facebook environment it is the user (or 'friend') that is the product for sale.

Facebook sells the product (and its data by-products) to advertisers, and then re-packages it up and then sells it back to us as the social experience.

The cycle is complete - and gets completely spectacular - when we understand that this idea of the Facebook friend is not only reduced to reified commodity but is also now increasingly becoming the way we understand the nature of authentic friendship, to a degree.

Where that fact might have been spectacular enough in 2011, today we can see other 'possibilities' around further objectification afforded by the next wave of mass media technologies.

In particular the likes of virtual and augmented reality technologies.

I've semi-referenced Debord's Society of The Spectacle in this note.

Among the many descriptions of the Spectacle the following is perhaps the most key to this discussion.

'The spectacle appears at once as society itself, as a part of society and as a means of unification.
As a part of society, it is that sector where all attention, all consciousness, converges.
Being isolated and precisely for that reason this sector is the locus of illusion and false consciousness; the unity it imposes is merely the official language of generalized separation'

The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.'

Obviously my novelty pseudo-academic intellectualism finds the synonym connecting The Spec-tacle and then Google Glass, the almost uber-mediator of social relationship by images, ironic and funny.

Let's read that again.

'The spectacle appears at once as society itself, as a part of society and as a means of unification'.'

That Facebook/Spectacle analogy is developed further by journalist John Harris who also notes:

'[Debord] is talking about alienation, the commodification of almost every aspect of life and the profound social sea-change whereby any notion of the authentic becomes almost impossible'.

To end this note, perhaps the inevitability of Virtual and Augmented reality technologies as a mass media proposition (ie spectacle) - is one in which it usurps (or indeed incorporates) Facebook as 'the invasive force of the 'spectacle'.

There is the possibility that Google Glass actually takes the idea of the Spectacle as 'social relation between people mediated by images' to new levels of alienation in the guise of authentic social life.

Both Lukács and Debord would possibly note that these new social technologies that are presented and accepted as a social innovations that allow the users to better participate in the world, are just as easily described as reification mechanisms designed to reinforce the spectacle of pseudo-communication producing not connection but only further alienation.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

you are are a unique individual. just like everybody else

Look into my eyes for 5 seconds then review the analysis below the picture.

You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself.

While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.

You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage.

Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worried and insecure on the inside.

At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.

You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations.

You also pride yourself on being an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof.

But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others.

At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved.

Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

Does that sound about right?

Actually the above quotation comes an experiment conducted by psychologist Bertram R. Forer in 1948.

He gave some students a personality test based on tabloid horoscope material, gave each of them the same report and explained it was their personal assessment.

On average, the subjects marked their personal analysis as about 85 percent correct.

This tendency to believe general vaguaries as specific is called the Forer effect, and part of a larger cognitive bias known as subjective validation - our tendency to be more persuaded by statements that seem to be about 'us'.

After all you are are a unique individual. Just like everybody else.

So when we advertising types are looking for insight and developing propositions we should be advised that a fruitful avenue of pursuit is not the road that seeks to find those things that make people different but finding those things that make us the same.

ht and thanks NotSoSmartBlog. Buy his book.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

the power of people

David Hepworth talking about the power of Twitter.

What he's really talking about is the power of people.

Remember kids, it's not just about the tools but about the behaviours.

People adopt the tools when the tools solve a problem.

Twitter is still around while others have failed because it still solves a problem.

Thx Brand DNA

the truth about ROI....

Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a Latin phrase from which the logical fallacy that states 'Since that event followed this one, that event must have been caused by this one' is drawn.

The post hoc fallacy can be most simply expressed as follows:

A happened, then B happened.
Therefore, A caused B.

This fallacy occurs most frequently in the area of socialis media vendo (social media marketing).

Socialis media Vendo being an outpost of la la land in which 1200% ROI on electronics goods can be solely attributed to Facebook advertising.

Now that I mention it, nothing seems to have gone right for me since I started writing this blog.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

'like' if you love cheese

There's been some speculation and debate among the chattering classes about the implications of the new Facebook feed set up for brands on the platform and brand pages in particular.

There's plenty of material out there from the social media experts on the how-and-what so no need for me to add a lay view here.

What I will say is that the - let's face it - impending death of edgerank is no bad thing.

I received a report the other day from the community managers who run and monitor the Facebook presence of several fmcg type brands.

Included in the report - and I kid you not - was a statement to this effect.

Our best performing post this week with x-hundred 'likes' was...

'Like if you love cheese'

Aside from how the norm is to calculate best performing content in this manner when in reality 'likes' are a pure vanity metric - feels good but offers no value in terms of anything actionable as a consequence - one can't help but ponder the following fact.

Here we have (and have had for some time) mass social media platforms - perhaps the most potentially powerful set of tools ever available to the human race in its history, with the potential to connect billions people world wide, and inspire them to do just about anything - yet for marketers we are stuck in this mediocre space - 'like if you love cheese'.

Because over time brands on Facebook gradually figured out how to ‘game’ edgerank – you may have seen the sharp rise in inane like-baiting drivel from brands clogging up your feed. Tactics such us ‘like if you prefer pies, share if you prefer sausage rolls’ are deliberately designed to game Edgerank. They get the likes, for sure.

So i applaud Facebook for now effectively killing edge rank (that's not what they say but it's my interpretation) in a play to make it harder for this kind of branded cack to appear into the users feeds in an organic way.

Facebook want brands to pay for their reach. And they are entitled to want this.

The good news, however, is that in all likelyhood the fact that brands will now have to pay for reach means that the quality of brand content will have to improve.

Because it is no longer 'free' then Facebook content will have to come under the same strategic and creative consideration as any other paid-for advertising, therefore reaching beyond brand fans to touch as many potential buyers as possible is the imperative.

The perceived 'value' will now be greater, simply because there is a cost connected to distribution. On the downside it’s a straight-up ad platform now. More like tv or any other web based publishing platform like Yahoo or msn.

Brand content is the now in effect pre-roll to your friends updates.

And it is a boat that appears to be leaving the harbour as the next generation of potential Facebook users appear to be - perhaps not splitting from the program - but certainly spending more time with less 'public' verticals like Whatsapp, SnapChat and Instagram (albeit a Facebook owned property)for their instant gratification and dipping in and out of Facebook for their broadcast fix.

It's a bitter-sweet situation. Better brand content (advertising), designed to get shared and grow reach, for sure, but I sense that we may now look back say that Facebook was the great missed and misunderstood opportunity for advertising as an industry.

but then a strange fear gripped me and I just couldn't ask.

'What happens with fear is that probability doesn't matter very much. That is, once I have raised the possibility that something terrible can happen....even though the possibility is remote, you may find it very difficult to think of anything else. Emotion becomes dominant.'

The above quote is Daniel Kahneman explaning how human emotional reactions routinely over-ride the rational in conditions of uncertainty.

Under most conditions to be fair.

DK also famously notes that all heuristics are equal, but 'availability' is more equal than others.

This is the simple explanation of why reach and frequency are still so important to advertisers messages.

So, reach + frequency + fear therefore is about as powerful a combination motivator as one can get.

A typical strategy to exploit this would be thus.

- Invoke a sense of fear.

- Then present a solution – invariably a path back into a known comfort zone (status quo bais) – and usually one that promotes using a particular product or service to maintain said status quo.

The famous product example is around halitosis.

Halitosis was a 'medical' condition invented by the manufacturers of Listerine mouthwash in order to create a problem for which they had already premade solution.

This is also interesting through the lens of non-behaviour change strategies, where a status quo is required.

Or a non-action.

The fear factor is naturally multiplied by at least a factor of two due to a natural human bias for loss aversion.

We feel losses (or potential losses) about twice as badly as we would feel equivalent gains.

For example.
On the way to work/school/uni this morning you find that you have lost $100 somewhere on the journey.

Imagine how bad that feels. Pretty annoying and likely to be on your mind all day.

However if you had found $100 in the street then you would feel happy for a short while but far less happy than the equivalent unhappiness you would have felt about the loss of the money.

When discussing behaviour change strategies with clients this is a key point we raise.
The new behaviour needs to be presented as significantly better, more fun and easy to adopt.

At least twice as 'good' as the status quo behaviour to even have a chance. Apples for apples doesn't cut it.

In this sense fear can be a powerful motivator for inaction because it can also paralyse.
Again, in any given situation or market there is the option to do nothing.
And most often that's the easy one to adopt.

This has been a long-winded intro to presenting this article - brought to our attention by Charles - from the blog of Craig Murray the author, broadcaster and human rights activist and former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan.

In his piece Murray points out the repeated use of the words 'warning” and “Scottish independence” in the same sentence by the BBC in repoting associated with the forthcoming referendum vote on Scottish Independence.

Below are a few of the links, there are many more.

“Scottish independence: Pension shortfall warning”

“UK Treasury warning that an SNP plan for a currency union after independence”

“Scottish independence: Warning over ‘weakened military’”

“Scottish independence: ‘Havoc’ warning from pensions firm”

My own view on Scottish independence or otherwise aside theres a few of points worth noting.

The first being around the availability heuristic.
Availability is our natural human bias towards believing things that come most easily to mind.

To that end the 'Better Together' (anti) side of the independence debate have clearly grasped that key to their ends is ensuring that the fear motivator is the frame - and the resultant in-action or status quo bias is the desired outcome.

To the power of two, the key to the success of their campaign is not simply persuading those who are against independence to take action, but also to ensure that those who have no clear preference do nothing and stick with what they know.

What is somewhat disturbing is that the BBC appear to be giving disproportionate and significant airtime to this framing of the debate.
Albeit in a somewhat covert way.

The second point is understanding another point about human behaviour.
Again in situations of uncertainty or risk we will tend to look around and see what other people feel before deciding how we feel.
So for the side of the debate that can mmanipulate the 'mass' media to the best extent. ie using these supposed independent sources to perpetuate the idea that this is indeed the popular idea this is a winning frame.

Reach and frequency (social diffusion + availability heuristic) + fear frame (loss aversion + status quo bias) looks like the equation for a no vote.

And as final psychology gag (and something of a killing joke) one has to doubt the resolve of the yes lobby when one understands that the Nationalists card up it's sleeve is a radical middle way - and their own unfortunate slip towards the do nothing option.

Apparently an independent Scotland would keep the monarchy, the currency (pounds), join NATO and the European union. In other words Scotland becomes independent but everything stays exactly the same. A pitch towards a subset of the inert and the system justification bias vote.