Saturday, December 26, 2015

boxing day

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.

Monday, December 07, 2015

cultural fossils

‘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.
Human creativity.

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

to brand or not to brand? is that a question?

[This post originally appeared in November as one of my regular articles for]

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

virtue signalling

“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

Friday, September 04, 2015

digital advertising. where did it all go wrong?

By 1971 Manchester United’s Irish star George Best's hectic off-field celebrity life style had began to take its toll on his effectiveness on the pitch.

Arguably the most talented footballer of his (or just about any) generation George had lost interest in the game, developing a reputation for general unreliability and missing both training sessions and matches.

This erratic behaviour was connected to Best's developing problem with alcoholism. He eventually parted company with United (and football) during the 1973/4 season, at the end of which Manchester United were relegated.

George Best was only 27 when he quit - an age when most players are usually regarded as being at or near their peak – and the ‘wasted genius who threw it all away’ narrative was never far from the tabloid headlines.

Without the distraction of football, George was free to pursue his other interests – namely drinking, gambling and glamorous women.

One night in 1974 George spent the evening in a casino with a former Miss World.

They won a silly amount of money, went back to their hotel room and ordered the hotel’s best champagne which was shortly delivered by an Irish room service waiter.

The waiter looked at George, Miss World, the piles of money scattered all over the bed, the vintage champagne and said to Best:

“So tell me now George…
 Where did it all go wrong?”

On the surface, George didn’t look like he was having too many problems.

Similarly, looking at the numbers, online advertising seems to be in rude health.

PwC forecasts that global total internet advertising revenue is set to grow from (US) $135.42bn in 2014 to $239.87bn in 2019, a Compound Annual Growth Rate over the period of 12.1%.

They go on to predict that as the segment captures an ever-larger portion of advertising budgets, it will exceed TV to become the largest single advertising category by 2019.

Here in Australia the digital advertising market also continues to grow with the latest IAB/PwC Online Advertising Expenditure Report (OAER) noting that it generated $1.15 billion during the March quarter, another 5% increase year on year.

That’s a lot of money scattered over internet advertising’s bed.

It’s had a few good nights at the casino but the real problems are only now starting to unravel.

A basic problem is the widespread acceptance and assumption in the industry that ‘advertising online’ almost exclusively means ‘highly targeted direct response advertising’.

Where did it all go wrong?

There is also widespread acceptance and assumption among web users that ‘advertising online’ must mean tracking.

It’s easiest to point the finger at adtech (or programmatic) the spoiled problem child of direct response marketing, given far too many toys to play with.

Adtech’s parents (Direct marketing) knew their role. They were there to make the phone ring after brand advertising had done it’s job.

But that wasn’t good enough for for the adtech brats. They wanted the whole game, and the internet – led by their big brothers and sisters Google, Facebook et al,  allowed them to play it.

But if - as adtech asserts - people are demanding and responding to more personalised and relevant ‘advertising’ , why isn’t ad-blocking adoption going down instead of up?

It turns out that people don't like the idea of being tracked and profiled.

They don't like being followed around the web by ads for stuff they have already bought (this has a knock-on effect in that it harms those brands that are doing the following. It looks desperate, it’s creepy and does nothing for ‘signal’)

And people don’t like their mobile data allowance being spunked by ads.

So naturally they start installing adblocking software.

And everyone loses.

While adblocking solves one consumer problem – they don’t see intrusive ads – it doesn’t solve any privacy problem.

Even if a human user doesn’t see the small portion of ads served that are actually viewable (most of the page views and clicks reported are fraudulent anyway) they are still being tracked, for the most part, and the adblocker may have done a deal with ‘white-list’ adservers anyway to allow preferred ads through.

From an advertisers point of view, and also for agencies and publishers; the failure with ad tech (aside from fraud, data-leakage, invasion of privacy) is that it is simply not able to deliver the necessary brand advertising part of the equation.

The internet’s inability to deliver on brand advertising means it is (today) no place to be if you want to build a brand over the next 10 years, and no amount of adtech is going to fix that because we have set up the web to only deliver direct response marketing in advertising clothing in the form of impressions and clicks - coincidentally the easiest things to fake and to track - and an ecosystem that rewards crap.

Brand advertising creates demand, direct response fulfils it.

A model in which the high quality sites, with high quality audience do their own deals with high quality brand advertisers, extracting (at least) the highest quality parts of their available inventory from the programmatic space might be a start.

Publishers could restrict their premium inventory, creating scarcity and an opportunity for ‘signal’.
A bit of brand-building conspicuous waste.

(I pitched for work a couple of years ago and this was their exact model. There was no way they were going to sully their web presence with anything other than premium ads or premium native – same strategy as the print mag).

And us in agencies need to stop pushing adtech and data-driven as the answer to every digital advertising problem for fear of looking not-up-to-date.

A final thought...if account planners still cared about being representing the minds of consumers rather than the latest gizmo then we would never have got into this mess in the first place. 

Stanley Pollitt is turning in his grave.

George Best famously noted:

"I spent most of my money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered."

We've squandered a lot of advertising money on dubious adtech and direct response advertising that's created no value for publishers, advertisers or consumers.

Time to spend some on booze, birds and fast cars.

Friday, August 28, 2015

I see you baby...shakin' that ass

Lions have a couple of principal hunting methods.

The first is one in which the lion stalks, undercover, getting as close as possible to the target, saving vital energy for a final burst of speed at the end.

Lions can’t run very fast over distance.

The second method involves find a bush close to a water hole, for example, hiding in it and waiting for unsuspecting dinner to appear.

This second approach is double-good for the lion who can also have a snooze whilst technically ‘out hunting’.
A bit like ‘working from home’.

Our Lion wakes up and sees a young gazelle taking a break by the water.
Lion tentatively moves out of the bush, but the alert young gazelle clocks him straight away.

But gazelle doesn’t run.
Nor does he crouch or try to hide.
Instead he turns to face the Lion.

Standing up straight he barks and stamps the ground with his hooves, all the time staring-out his potential attacker.

The Lion comes a bit nearer.
Surely the gazelle should get off his mark now?

Nope. He stands his ground, then begins a series of repeated jumps, using all four legs, a kind of dance known as ‘stotting’.

After a number of these jumps he then begins a somewhat leisurely run, shakin’ his ass and short black tail at the Lion in a kind of gazelle version of ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.’

The Lion steps back into the bush for another nap.

Why would the gazelle waste time and energy jumping up and down in front of an extremely dangerous predator instead of legging it as fast as it can?

And why does the Lion not go for him?

Biologist Amotz Zahavi asked this same question, and published the findings in 1975 in a study called The Handicap Principle.

(I recommend this one to young planners when they ask for reading material.)

Zahavi suggests that the gazelle is 'signalling' to the predator that it has seen it; and that by 'wasting' time and by jumping high in the air rather than running away, it demonstrates in a reliable way that it is able to outrun the Lion.

‘Even parties in the most adversarial relationships, such as prey and predator, may communicate, provided that they have a common interest: in this case, both want to avoid a pointless chase.’

The gazelle is communicating – implicitly - to the Lion as if to say:
‘Look at the amount of energy I can waste, and still get away from you.
Let’s not waste each other’s time.
Go and find something to eat that you might have a chance of catching.’

The Handicap Principal in a nutshell states that - to be effective - signals have to be

1. Reliable
2. And in order to be reliable, signals have to be costly.

It’s an elegant idea: waste makes sense.
‘Conspicuous’ waste in particular.

‘By wasting [conspicuously], one proves conclusively that one has enough assets to waste and more. The investment -the waste itself- is just what makes the advertisement reliable.’

The waste itself is just what makes the ‘advertisement’ reliable.

Researchers Tim Ambler and E. Ann Hollier wondered if the same thing applied in brand advertising and published their findings in The Waste in Advertising Is the Part That Works.

The pair devised a number of signalling tests including showing respondents showing ‘expensive-looking’ and ‘degraded’ versions of the same TV commercials to experimental subjects, and found that the perceived expense was influential in reported perceptions of brand quality.

 ‘The perceived extravagance of an advertisement contributes to advertising effectiveness by increasing credibility. It draws especially on the Handicap Principle in biology: animals use wasteful characteristics to signal their exceptional biological fitness. It hypothesises that excesses in advertising work in a similar way by signalling brand fitness…

…High perceived advertising expense enhances an advertisement’s [persuasiveness] significantly, but largely indirectly, by strengthening perceptions of brand quality’

The most important fact about a signal is that both senders and receivers benefit from its use.

At the core of signalling is the idea that businesses are constantly communicating through their actions, even when they are not intentionally communicating.

Over time, we implicitly learn that heavily advertised brands are of a high quality, and because advertising causes salience of the brand name, most times we can infer high quality from recognition alone.

It is the increasing absence of such signal that is becoming one of the core problems we have with digital advertising today.

Faris has spoken of it in terms of a Malthusian trap

‘Every time some new space opens up in culture, we rush to fill it, create an arms race, destroy the space in our self created Malthusian Trap.’

Bob Hoffman adds this, in his inimitable fashion.

‘I can think of nothing that has done more harm to the internet than adtech.
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.’

Also Don Marti (who has been on the case about signal longer than most)

‘But when advertisers try to target users individually, signalling breaks down. Targeting turns an ad into the digital version of a cold call. Targeted ads tend to “burn out” the medium in which they appear, through a Peak Advertising effect. Each new targetable medium falls in value and popularity as users figure it out, filter it, or get their governments to restrict it.

The question remains.

At some point soon we are going to have to figure out how the hell to build brands on the internet, because we haven’t done much of a job so far.

But more on that later...

'I know you all know what I'm talkin' about,
Don't be lookin' at me like that now,
I see you baby shakin' that ass'

Monday, June 08, 2015

aim for fame

James Norrington: 'You are without doubt the worst pirate I've ever heard of'.

Capt. Jack Sparrow: 'But you have heard of me'.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

how to win at 'chicken'

Two cars head toward each other. 

The first driver to swerve loses the game, along with some stature among his adolescent peers. 

On the other hand, if neither driver bails out, both lose in a bigger way. 

What to do? 

Toss your steering wheel out the window in full view of the other driver. 

Once convinced that you’re irrevocably committed to your course, he will, if rational, do the swerving himself.

Friday, May 22, 2015

aberrant salience meets rosser reeves uptown

The term 'salience' - in marketing speak - refers to the likelihood that a particular brand will ‘come to mind’ easily in buying situations. 

In How Brands Grow, Professor Sharp uses the term to describe the idea of ‘mental availability’.

The easier a brand is to remember, in more buying situations, for more potential buyers, then the higher the overall mental ‘availability’ of the brand, ergo the more likelihood that the most salient brand will be bought.

Salience is also widely used in cognitive science, to describe the attention grabbing quality of things in general.

This is where ad people often get slightly confused.
While a campaign may be salient in the cognitive sense – its content is eye catching or entertaining for example – its effectiveness as a branding vehicle depends of how easily it is for those who view or interact will 'remember' which brand it was at an appropriate buying opportunity.

This requires subconscious (and conscious) brand cues throughout, fuelling the content-addressable memoryBranded neuro-richness, if you prefer.

Therefore ad salience and brand salience are two halves of the job.

Much of the so-called branded content out there seems to fail on these points.

It’s neither ad salient (i.e. brand content that is pitched as ‘comic’ is nowhere near as funny as regular unbranded comedy therefore does not stand-out) nor is it brand salient (assuming one has the mettle to stick it out through five or six minutes of sub standard 'entertainment' the branding itself may fleetingly appear only on the end frame).

Medical conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia are also now widely believed to involve, at least in part, a problem with the mind’s regulation of salience.

In states of psychosis ordinary or commonplace things appear more important or alarming than they should.

In extreme cases this can take the form of delusions or hallucinations.
More than being mistaken or perhaps mild confusion they can include disturbing states such as believing that your thoughts are being manipulated by aliens, somehow external forces are controlling your actions, or believing that people want to engage in meaningful relationships with brands.

This idea, ‘Psychosis as a state of aberrant salience’ was popularised by the psychiatrist Shitij Kapur.

Kapur’s Aberrant Salience Theory connects delusions and hallucinations to differences in dopamine function.

He argues that dopamine is crucial in highlighting which things are ‘motivationally important’, how they stand out from each other.

Dopamine plays a critical role in the function of the central nervous system, and is also linked with the brain's complex system of motivation and reward.

Dopamine release can be artificially stimulated through the use of drugs like MDMA (Ecstacy), whereas instances where dopamine release would naturally occur include during sex, or when hugging your child, or when a Twitter campaign delivers a 1500% ROI.

Advertising’s adaptation of Aberrant Salience theory is known as the Rosser Reeves Fallacy.

Reeves was one of the most famous ad men of the 50s, and also inventor of the ‘unique selling proposition’.

We can hang him for that one in another post, for this one we want to focus on his equally flawed method for measuring ad effectiveness

In simple terms Reeves method involved taking a sample of your target customer, show them your advertising and see how many of them recognise it.

Compare scores for yay vs nay and there’s your effect.

The Reeves theory is grabbing the wrong end of the stick, the problem is that people are far more likely to notice and remember advertising for the brands they use and like.

And a brand's Facebook fans or social media following tend also to be heavier buyers.
Of course they are, that's why they become fans in the first place.
They become fans of brands that they already know, already like and already use.

As Les Binet and Sarah Carter explain in their Mythbuster series:

‘These new digital incarnations of the Rosser Reeves Fallacy are particularly dangerous. Because they focus on heavy buyers, they lead to a flawed emphasis on loyalty over penetration, targeting over reach, and price promotion over brand building – all strategies proven to be less profitable’.

Just this week the annual Sensis SocialMedia Report asserts:

‘Marketers are failing to give consumers what they want on social media after mistakenly believing the public are keen to have a two-way conversation with their brand.’

All good so far.

84% of marketers are looking to open a conversation, [but] most punters want discounts (45%), give-aways (35%) and coupons (30%).

Exactly, customers don’t want to engage they just want to get the brands and products they already like and use, for cheaper.

Except, the Sensis report seems to indicate that this is what they should be given.

‘[its] important for brands to take a softly, softly approach when first building an audience base before moving to a more sales-driven message. People are engaging with businesses and once they have established a relationship they are absolutely open to…offers and incentives.’

Aberrant Salience Meets Rosser Reeves Uptown.

A problem with the mind’s regulation of salience.
States of psychosis in which the wrong things appear important.

Like the focus on heavy buyers,
The flawed emphasis on loyalty over penetration,
Tight targeting over broad reach,
And price promotion over brand building.

All strategies proven to be less profitable.
And yet still widely practiced and recommended.

Friday, May 15, 2015

catenaccio, totaalvoetbal, tiki-taka

'That’s the essence of strategy: to outperform rivals, who are trying to do better than us' 

Phil Rosenzweig ‘Left Brain, Right Stuff’ 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

football's not a matter of life or death, it's nudge more important than that.

I’m not sure if this story that I heard at the weekend qualifies as a nudge or a full-on behaviour change intervention. Or something in between.

My 6-year-old boy and I were listening to the keeper talk at the giraffe enclosure in Melbourne Zoo, who gave us the gist of the following story.

The giraffes in the zoo have come from the Melako Conservancy in Northern Kenya, one of 26 community conservation areas managed by the Northern Rangelands Trust.

This area covers about 1500 square miles and, alongside the giraffes, it is home to approximately 40,000 Rendille people, semi-nomadic groups who’s main livelihood revolves around rearing of livestock.

In traditional Rendille culture, young men between the ages of 13 and 25 went through initiation to gain status and become a warrior.

Among the rituals the hunting and killing of the native animals such as giraffes, zebras and oryx.

The traditional role of the warrior had been to protect the community, acquire livestock and, as a by product, demonstrate their 'fitness' and gain subsequent status and reproductive advantages. 

The top boys would obviously become tribe leaders of the future, with all the perks that go with that role.

Times have changed, there’s less imperative for young Rendille men to become traditional warriors however old habits die hard and the lads tended to still cause trouble with rival gangs, hunt the wildlife, to jostle for group status.

The bigger problem now is that certain species including Beisa oryx, Grevy’s zebra, giraffe and gerenuk are now becoming endangered.

So the NRT people and representatives from Zoo’s Victoria came up with an intervention that they hoped would work with the need for the nascent warriors to compete for group status but divert it away from the behaviours that put the animals under threat.

It turns out that the Rendille boys other principle interest other than the activities mentioned, was soccer*.

So the NRT and ZV set about bringing in the kit needed to set up pitches, balls and strips.

The Melako league now consists of 16 teams.

The nudgey bit is that the teams are named after the wildlife that were previously under threat and incorporated into the team badges printed on the team shirt.

The NRT are measuring the impact of this in a reduction in what they call flight distance. 

When wildlife is feels stressed or harassed it is more difficult for humans to get close to them, resulting in longer flight distance.

When wildlife feel less wary of humans then the flight distance is shorter and it is easier to get closer to them, and to count the numbers.

According to our zookeeper friend, the numbers are improving.

*I'm using the term soccer so as not to confuse with the strange game that passes as football in Australia, ok?

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

the brains of millennials are (not) being rewired by the internet

There is a popular idea.

One that you probably encounter, in some variant, a few times every week.

It goes along these lines.

The internet is rewiring the brains of millennials, as they evolve and adapt to the new processing skills they need to survive in today’s information saturated environment.

Among the essential adaptations are things like rapidly searching, assessing quality, and synthesizing vast quantities of information and data.

Some pundits go as far as to add that the ability to think about one thing in isolation, in some depth, will be of far less consequence for most people in the near future, therefore contributing to new social divides and labour divides between these new ‘supertaskers’ and the pervious generation of dullards.

On the other hand perhaps the internet has produced a generation addicted to quick-fixes of info-nuggets, self-obsessed, averse to any critical analysis, making shallow choices and chasing instant gratification.

There’s not much wrong with that description either, except there’s nothing particularly new or adapted to behold, and it certainly wasn’t the product of the internet.

It’s a fairly standard illustration of young human behaviour throughout the ages.

I prefer the explanation offered by the evolutionary psychologist, Steven Pinker.

‘Claims that the Internet is changing human thought are propelled by a number of forces: the pressure on pundits to announce that this or that "changes everything"; a superficial conception of what "thinking" is that conflates content with process…

The most interesting trend in the development of the Internet is not how it is changing people's ways of thinking but how it is adapting to the way that people think.'

The most popular and successful things on the internet are the tools that have adapted themselves to serve natural human behaviour.

Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, Instagram and new arrivals such as Snapchat and Periscope work so well because they are perfectly adapted to allow us to display (or most often fake) specific personality traits.

These traits are the ‘central six’ as described by another evolutionary psychologist, Geoffrey Miller.
The central six are General intelligence, Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Stability and Extraversion.

This set supersedes any Myers-Briggs nonsense, and the briefest perusal of anyone’s Twitter stream can reveal points to be placed against each of these criteria.

[Note: While it will not always give an exact score of the real personality traits of an individual it will give an accurate representation of what they are attempting to fake.

Miller’s general description of humans as ‘hypersocial, semi-monogamous, status-seeking primates’ serves as a decent rule of thumb for all behaviour]

Additionally, it seems that much of the ‘rewiring the brain’ narrative – particularly in media and comms circles - seems to stem from:

1. A proliferation of neuro-bollocks (this shall be addressed in another post)
2. And the brain-as-computer metaphor.

There are a large number of reasons why this metaphor is not useful and, for the most part, completely wrong however one particular difference should be most interesting for us advertising types.

Computers are binary with a numerically ordered and numbered memory. If it wants to find something it goes to a specific address and picks up the piece of information.

This is known as byte-addressable memory.

While the promise of highly targeted advertising’s effectiveness sounds plausible, it is also binary – byte addressable.

But brain chemistry runs on content addressable memory or associative memory. 

The big difference is that when a memory is piqued in the human mind a signal is sent to the entire memory and those memory locations that have a scrap of related information all respond at once.

This is why familiar and popular brands become salient in buying or usage contexts – the number and quality of associations is strong enough to bring the brand ‘to mind’.

With that thought perhaps another interesting development of the Internet is not how it is changing the way brands advertise but how the internet is adapting to the way that advertising works.

For example, Facebook Video Ads are noe being bought and measured in a way that’s pretty similar to how advertisers have historically bought and measured on TV. 

And Bloomberg reports that Snapchat’s new ‘Discover’ feature ‘looks a lot like a basic cable package’.

The free service includes 11 ‘TV’ channels, including CNN, ESPN, the Food Network, National Geographic, People, and Vice, alongside Comedy Central.

The channels produce their own videos and also sell their own ads, giving Snapchat a cut of the revenue.

Interestingly, with a user base of 100 million, Snapchat says it doesn’t track user behaviour to target ads; advertisers get the run of the whole network.

It may be that the internet is adapting to the way that advertising – and the human mind – works.
For both advertisers and humans the principal appeal of the internet is for signaling (or faking) the central six personality traits to everyone else.

In ‘The Tyranny of Dead Internet Ideas’ as referenced in Don Marti’s seminal piece on signaling from a brand pov  ‘How Signalling Breaks Down’ - Don Weaver says:

‘One can argue, and maybe I’m the first one to do it, that all this targeting and audience segmentation might be creating an internet that’s worse for the consumer.
By downplaying the need for context, we’re actually dis-incentivizing the creation of quality content and environments.’

So the internet is not rewiring our brains, it's adapting to how our brains work.
Likewise successful advertising and marketing on the internet - as with any other medium -will be the kind that adapts best to human nature rather than what technology can do.

Albeit at the risk of muddling, and if we must have a metaphor, perhaps the one suggested by the view of Tooby and Cosmides, the pioneers of evolutionary psychology.

'The mind is a system of organs of computation, designed by natural selection to solve the kinds of problems our ancestors faced in their foraging way of life'
In this sense the mind is more like an iPhone.

The mind is made up of ‘apps' that are domain-specific processes -  mating behaviour, predator avoidance, kin selection, language etc - that all evolved in our ancestral environment to meet the specific challenges of that environment.

Looking at human behaviour today, a lot of it doesn't seem to make much sense from a biological standpoint.

We relentlessly compete to climb the corporate ladder rather than spending time with our families;
We take drugs and drink too much alchohol.
We stuff our faces with sugar and junk food;
We obsess over celebrities , instead of going out and forming real relationships
We are addicted to communication technology and news that is manipulating our feelings and behavior in subtle ways we don't notice.

But of course they do make sense when you they do make sense when you recognise that these behaviours are all responses to recent developments in human technology and media that have emerged in the last couple of hundred years, and that for the 99% of the time that humans have been on this planet (thats about 8 million years) these things didn't exist.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

the reduce speed dial

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.

They say
'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

the streisand effect

‘There's no such thing as bad publicity", as the saying goes.

Because when people are publicly (and conspicuously) outraged about how some piece of media is offensive in some way - and the greater and more amplified the outrage becomes - so it draws disproportionate attention and chatter, increasing the fame of the thing itself, and furthermore arousing the natural curiosity of bystanders who want to know why this thing is deemed so offensive.

A close relative of this phenomenon has been coined the Streisand effect.

Roughly, this effect describes how when it becomes publicly known that someone famous or powerful/influential is using strong measures to try to suppress or hide a piece of information then many more people will start to want to know what it is, even if they never cared before.

When the California Coastal Records Project - a government-commissioned photographic study of the entire California coast – included a pic of Barbara Streisand’s Malibu home in their 2003 report Babs tried to sue the photographer and force him to take the pic off of his website.

Of course this quickly backfired, the internet (albeit pre-Twitter etc) went off on one and now everybody wanted to see the picture that Babs didn't want us to see, wondering why she didn't want us to see it.

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.

In ye olden times, a decent tactic for a singer or group trying to have a hit record would be to attempt to get the record banned by as many radio stations as possible. Frankie Goes To Hollywood managed to make a decent career on minimal talent this way.

So when the internet kicked off this week around the 'Are you beach body ready?' campaign for the weight-loss brand Protein World my guess is the brand couldn’t believe their luck.

The protests – apparently the campaign promotes negative body issues - are reported to be culminating in a 40,000strong demonstration in London’s Hyde Park on Saturday.

As a card-carrying fatty myself, perhaps I should be joining them.

However Protein World themselves claim that the campaign – and the unexpected associated kerfuffle – has brought them in 20,000 new customers and a million quid’s worth of new revenue in under 4 days.

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]

What is unclear is why this particular campaign has particularly irked those who find these things irksome.

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.

The kerfuffle is especially surprising given that 'Beach Body' as an advertising 'idea' itself is almost banal, such is it's unoriginality and ordinariness.

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.

‘I hate 4x4s!’ you declare. This is an assertion that, unlike others, you care about the environment.
It’s noticeable how often virtue signalling consists of saying you hate things. It is camouflage. The emphasis on hate distracts from the fact you are really saying how good you are.'

Not exactly the Streisand Effect, but enough is enough.