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.

Friday, April 24, 2015

over the counter-culture

The following is an excerpt (and slight expansion) from a section of a talk I gave earlier this week at the Google 'Firestarters' event in Melbourne.

The theme was 'Adaptive Strategy for an Adaptive Age'.

In this particular section of the talk I speculated around some of the external cultural factors that have implications for strategy (rather than discussing specifics of strategy or process and the like).

To illustrate I called upon two important texts in particular, a snippet of a recent interview in the Observer with Don Letts - legendary DJ, film-maker, Rasta punk and musician with Big Audio Dynamite - and the significance of the performance given by KLF at the Brits in 1992.

The first text was 'Subculture' by sociologist Dick Hebdige, a study of UK youth subcultures from the 50's to late 70's (a fantastic academic book, fairly unique among academic writing in that it is actually readable for mere mortals).

Hebdige describes the two principle methods by which every counter-culture idea of any significance is later incorporated or co-opted by the establishment.

He calls these the commodity form and the ideological form.

In the commodity form the establishment attempts to transform the 'other' into meaningless 'exotica'.
This is done by taking the style, trends, dress, music etc of the subcultures and popularising them so that the subcultures lose their exclusivity and gradually become mass-produced commodities made available to all. 

Or, secondly the ‘other’ is trivialised. What was 'otherness' is reduced to 'sameness'.
This incorporation minimises the ‘otherness’ and then ultimately defines the subculture in exactly the terms that it originally sought to resist in the first place.  So, as soon as the innovations that signified a subculture are translated into commodities and become everyday they lose meaning, i.e. what were subcultural 'signs' become mass-produced stuff. 

What begins as symbolic challenges end up becoming the new conventions.

For instance, the music of the Sex Pistols was played to the Queen, as an enduring symbol of Britishness, at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012.

For a long time, as I fancied myself as a sort of left-wing pseudo sociology professor and agitator type, this point of view made perfect sense.

So if a subculture could somehow resist incorporation and not 'sell-out' it could prevail, values intact.

However approaching the problem from another angle reveals a somewhat different possibility.

What if there is/was no subculture?

What if mainstream culture and counter-culture were simply two sides of the same coin?
What if consumer capitalism was not about conformity at all, but actually depended upon rebellion and counter-culture absolutely in order to generate the next wave of rebel product for integration into the mainstream?

This is the argument put forward by Heath and Potter in our second text 'The Rebel Sell - Why The Culture Can't BeJammed'.

That much of consumption is not about conformity- but distinction.

(From an evolutionary bases standpoint these would be the types of buying behaviour related to signaling - status and reproductive fitness - versus consumption broadly driven by survival instincts)

Cultural products that are purchased to display that we are smarter, cooler, more 'authentic' than others, generate competitive consumption.

Heath and Potter further argue that the cycle perpetuates itself because one the early adopters see too many people jumping on the latest counter-cultural bandwagon, they get off and move onto something else.

The irony being that "anti-consumerist" consumers are actually the most brand conscious.

As Debord would have observed ‘Opposition to the spectacle can produce only the spectacle of opposition’.

Don Letts makes a point in his Observer article.

(Ideologically he appears to be coming from the Hebdige point of view – lamenting the decline and slow death of the counter-culture from the rebel standpoint.

However what he also describes is the adaptation facing consumer capitalism. When there is no longer any significant counter culture from which to draw the next wave of cultural consumer products, then they begin to emerge from somewhere else altogether.)

'These days, people get into music to be part of the establishment. 
The most fuck-you guy around is Justin Bieber. What does that mean? 
There’s no counter culture – only over-the-counter culture.'

Selling out is now no longer something that needs to be post-rationalised to stave off cognitive dissonance in rebellious youth.

Selling-out is the objective, right from the get-go!

For Gen Xers this is a hard one to swallow.

Not so for millennials, rebellion has never been part of their culture – their only culture has been a marketing culture.

Later I argued that the real genius of Uber is nothing to do with technology or even (dubious) business practices.

The genius of Uber is in turning a commodity (consumption) product – the Taxi – into a display (status) product and spinning it’s anti-unionisation, anti-regulation winner-takes-all form of ultra-capitalism as some sort of signal of non-conformity and rebellion.

Now we know what’s going on, is it possible to map the disruption over time?

Possibly. This is purely a thought experiment - an ‘acausal connecting principle’ – e.g. a sequence of events that cannot be fully explained by simple cause and effect but something may be behind these events, even if we don’t know what.

I’ve joked in the past that the millennials are unique in post-war youth culture in one respect at least.

They are the first generation that was unable to come up with any kind of counter-culture idea that their parents would be afraid of. Sorry hipsters.

1980 was the year that millennials started being born, and therefore started to enter their teens around 1993 – the year that the internet began to be adopted and began it’s ten year march towards critical mass.

The previous year the KLF appeared on the televised Brit awards show, to perform and collect the award for ‘Best Act’.

In a final futile act of defiance Drummond and Cauty appeared on stage backed by Extreme Noise Terror (thrash metallists) and performed a barely recognizable thrash noise rendition of their biggest hit ‘3am Eternal’ before Drummond sprayed the audience (the music business itself) with  (blank) bullets from a machine gun and announcing ‘The KLF have left the music business’.

In The KLF:Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds by John Higgs the author offers this:

‘In a strange way, something about the music industry did die around that point. Music in the twentieth century had shown an incredible ability for invention. New musical genres were constantly created and explored – so much so, in fact, that this was considered normal. The first half of the century had given us such distinctive new genres as blues or jazz. The Fifties gave us rock ’n’ roll, and the Sixties gave us psychedelia and soul. The Seventies gave us reggae, heavy metal, disco and punk, and the Eighties had delivered hip-hop, techno, acid house and indie. The assumption was that this level of creativity was normal and would continue indefinitely…. It would never have occurred to anyone in those seats, as Drummond fired blanks into the ranks of their peers, that this period of invention had come to an end’.

The final nail in the coffin for the counter-culture – given that pop music of some shape or form has always been central to these movements - can then probably (and not without some significant irony), be traced to sometime around the turn of the century with the advent of the iPod, file sharing and streaming music services such as Spotify.

Is it that the emergence of devices and services that at first look appeared to democratise the music industry, shifting the power structure and giving us access to all music, all for free was an incorporation or co-optation too far?

Music began to lose it's signalling and galvanising power because it became an individualised 'pleasure' commodity product consumed (for free) by individuals in private within their earbuds.
That's if the individuals could even make it through the 3 minutes without pressing skip.

The well was now dry.

Our relationship with music had now changed forever – seemingly overnight, though it had been incrementally creeping up on us for 10 years and we hadn’t noticed.

Therefore consumer capitalism’s (profitable) relationship with the counter-culture has changed forever.

What happens now?
I’ve no idea, but the adaptive challenge for strategy needs to take this on board.

Or since the millennials dropped the ball, maybe Gen Z can come up with something.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

you get what you pay for

Every week now there seems to be another social media marketing disaster, usually revolving around the hijacking of the campaign hashtag or - as in the case of the lamentable #freshinourmemories debacle most recently - the hijacking of a 'branded' meme generator gizmo.

Blamestorming from the chattering classes obviously divides it's finger-pointing towards either the agency or the client.

I'll always tend to look at the agency and wonder what on earth they were thinking.
It's grade-A Dunning-Kruger.

In the #freshinourmemories case it appears that the agency in question may pay heavily.

Their website has gone offline completely and other clients have been reported to have dumped them.

But this hurts us all. It makes the whole industry looks bad.

To those who would blame the client - they signed it off etc - I would say, perhaps.

But then don't expect clients to come to agencies for strategic counsel for much longer.

Do we want to be just implementers?

Einstein famously defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. He'd be having a laugh at this business.

But here's a question.

Would there have been the same kerfuffle if the campaign had been a bunch of press ads and posters, for example?

Media that had to be paid for.

Rory Sutherland mentions this a lot.

The act of advertising - in a paid form and because that form is expensive - conveys an implicit meaning which free (ie social) media does not.

Paying for advertising is a kind of 'costly-signalling' by the brand that says ' we have some confidence our service and we value our reputation. So much so that we are prepared to stick some money behind it.'

The message of #freshinourmemories was not exploitative in itself (though 'fresh' is pretty clumsy).

But to simply pay to promote it may have been viewed as showing more commitment to the spirit.

Dare I say, more 'authentic'.

But as long as agencies are peddling 'the answer is social media, now what's the question?' then the clients that 'buy' into that will be getting what they pay for.

At best, not a lot.

At worst, regrettable and avoidable gubbins of the kind we've witnesses this week.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

the return of nietzsche marketing [ #dashbutton edition]

We conducted a small survey on supermarket shopping behaviour using the agency staff as our sample group of around 50.

It was relatively unscientific, however, the aim was to crudely test one particular covert thought.

We simply asked our respondents if they used a shopping list when visiting the supermarket.

For those who answered 'yes' we asked them to provide an example of a typical shopping list.

For those who answered 'no' we asked them to jot down what their mental list might typically be, anyway.

This gave us some interesting feedback - scribbled paper lists were by far the most popular, followed by self-text messages - and among this group no-one used a list-type app.

But that wasn't what we were really looking at.

Recently we've been reading Herb Sorensen's 2009 book 'Inside the Mind of the Shopper'.

His research that suggests that:
1. Around half of supermarket trips result in baskets of 5 items or less.
2. The most common basket size is just one item.

(This data is further referenced in the Byron Sharp textbook 'Marketing: Theory, Evidence, Practice' Chapter 8.)

Close to 90% of our responses contained 5 items or fewer.
The other 10% were 6.

For psych fans, and in the context of of Millers Law - The Magic Number 7, this was also curious.

The 'law' asserts that humans can retain 7 (plus or minus 2) pieces of information easily in working memory.

It turns out that this is less of a law and more of a decent hunch, the real number is closer to 5.

We could infer then, that shopping lists (list apps or other ‘solutions’) don’t necessarily add any utility to shoppers. We are reasonably capable of remembering 5 things.

More on shopping technology in a minute.

So our data was obviously slightly skewed as midweek shopping trips will be more likely to be quick trips, but you get the general idea, and our mode was 2 (pretty close to 1).

(Milk, bread and tissues in case you are wondering.)

Again, all this was interesting but not what I wanted to observe.

What I was looking for was specific brand name mentions.

And among the 86 different product categories listed by our respondents were only two instances of brand names.

Everything else was generic category - bread, milk, fruit, meat, tissues etc.

This seemed to be clear indication that, for the most part, people set out to buy from categories first, brands come second.

Of course preferences do exist, but these are more implicit rather than explicit.

In many fmcg categories brand either doesn't exist or is invisible (meat, fruit, vegetables) might exist but have little or no effect (bread, milk) and in the categories where it does have some influence the brand that gets bought is the one most salient at the point, and context of purchase.

Familiarity, popularity, habit and availability drive FMCG categories.

Unlike fashion or cars for example there is no 'display' or 'social' value for consumers.

One's choice of washing powder does not signal anything to anyone else.

It is simply something to be consumed.

Display value is only a marginally stronger pull anyway.

This is the eternal conundrum for commodity type brands.

All of which is the long way round to looking at Amazon Dash.

The Dash Button is a single-use Wi-Fi enabled ordering device for a selected set of partners including Gillette, Pampers, Tide and Olay. You press it and it orders directly - and frictionless - for you.

The promise of, for example, self-replenishing fridges, has long been part of the lore of 'the internet of things' and this appears to be Amazon’s play in that area, allowing customers to instantly repeat buy partner brands without thinking about it, more importantly, without being distracted by a competing brand at the shelf.

For the remainder of this piece we need to put aside any notions of could/should.

Amazon (and the other SV corporate giants) winner-takes-all disintermediation of every category imaginable is another debate.

Though as Andrew Keen quotes in 'The Internet is Not The Answer'.

“In Darwinian terms these new corporate giants are just the latest stage in the evolution of the public corporation, they exist to create wealth—vast quantities of it—for their founders and shareholders.

Their imperative is to grow and achieve dominance in their chosen markets—as well as in others which they now deem to be within their reach. They are as hostile to trade unions, taxation, and regulation as John D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie ever were in their day. The only difference is that the new titans employ far fewer people, enjoy higher margins and are less harassed by governments than their predecessors.”

For FMCG brands, however, this is of little concern. Distribution is distribution.

What's interesting here is not the idea that push button instant replenishment is anything to do with notions of brand loyalty (active, in an attitudinal sense).

But is everything about enabling 'loyalty' in the passive behavioural sense.

On the one hand, commodity products with no display value can try and create 'meaning' by spending on huge emotional advertising - eg P&G's 'Thank You Mom' and the like.

Being famous and familiar will always be important.

But the Dash Button is somehow more refreshingly Nietzschean in it's acceptance of the kind of emptiness of consumption. In reaching acceptance that it will never be loved Tide is now happy just to be bought.

Who will press a button to order Tide? Or 5 boxes of Tide?
Well, we've already seen that people will trek to the supermarket for less than five items.
And most of the time for just one.

To come back to Professor Sharp's idea of brand salience, by which we mean the propensity of a particular brand to come to mind in a particular buying or usage situation.

If the buying situation occurs at the point of usage, ie in front of the washing machine then the brand that was last used, and the brand on the button becomes the most salient by default. No other brand is in it.

This is what Dave Trott might describe as 'getting upstream of the problem'.

People will never love their soap powder brand, but will be inclined to repeat purchase out of habit providing nothing else gets in the way.

So make sure nothing else gets in the way, then.

There's a statement attributed to Jeff Bezos that we often recall and use.

Bezos says that - given that Amazon are a cutting-edge tech retailer - people are interested in their innovation pipeline and therefore he often fields questions asking about what Jeff thinks might change in business in the next 5-10 years.

His reply is that he is more interested in what will stay the same. Because you can build a business on things that are stable in time.

People will always want things faster and cheaper.>