Friday, February 10, 2017

might as well jump

Note: This thing was written for the Mumbrella '24 hours with...' weekly feature.

After about 6 re-writes it was still rejected as not meeting the criteria, so I gave up. This is version 2 which was the best 'take'.


Are readers are familiar with the BBC comedy TV show ‘Room 101’?

On the show celebrities are invited to discuss their pet hates and then attempt to persuade the host – Frank Skinner - to send those hates into oblivion in Room 101.

The literary Room 101 is the torture room in the George Orwell novel 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' which reputedly contains ‘the worst thing in the world’.

Interestingly George Orwell himself named Room 101 after a real meeting room in BBC Broadcasting House where he sat through many tedious meetings.

Perhaps you have one such room in your agency…

If I were ever to appear on the show, one of my items for Room 101 would almost certainly be in-flight magazines.

In particular those ‘one day in Marrakech’ types of articles.

‘Wake up early and take a stroll through the local artisanal shepherds market where you can pick up a single-origin Nicaraguan black honey espresso – infused with Apricot, of course – and peruse the selection of hand-made authentic Mongolian compost toilets.’

Hopefully I can get through this article without that kind of status-signaling twaddle. Or at least keep it to a minimum.

I say minimum, as I’m only human.

So, a day in the life - minus the conspicuous ‘authenticity’…

The day begins…

As much as I can I try and organise working time during daylight hours.

Routinely staying up way past bedtime to finish work that didn’t get done during the day is an indicator that something else has gone awry.

Some of us think of ourselves as night people, but - as a species - we have evolved to function best in the daytime.

For a start, we can't see in the dark.

Given that sabre-tooth tigers and suchlike tended to hunt at night this was of some importance or our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

There’s a lot of talk these days about this-or-that disruptive innovation.

In terms of impact innovations such as the electric light were exponentially more disruptive than any Uber or Snapchat glasses will ever be.

Even if you prefer to work at night, it is still the down time on the evolutionary body clock. I have extra admiration for people like A&E doctors who work through the night. It’s a hard enough job as it is without battling against 2 million years of evolution.

I’d rather just get up a bit earlier in the morning. Speaking of which…


I get up. But nothing gets me down.

I’d like to be able to say that this is a tactical self-nudge to anchor my biological clock, however it’s more about the necessity of getting on the road. I live down the Mornington Peninsula so I’m part of the traffic on the M3, M11 then M1.

If I’m not on the M1 by 7am it can take forever to get to South Melb.

I’ve generally selected the next day's clothes etc the night before – by ‘selected’ I mean jeans and whatever t-shirt is top of the pile (its my variant of the famous Obama two-suits method).

A morning routine helps me function without having to think about what I’m doing, and get out the door without waking the family at stupid o’clock.

Car time is often creative thinking time. But who couldn’t be creative zipping through the morning rush in a canary yellow Porsche 911 Carrera?

It’s a bit harder in a 2003 Honda Jazz, but I manage.

I recently read about the cartoonist Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) who thought up all the original Dilbert cartoons between 5am and 7am before going to his day job.

Even after quitting his job and going pro he continued to do the strip from 6am to 7am and doesn't attempt any creative work in afternoon, reserving that time for admin tasks.

With a bit of luck I’ll get into the office around 7.45. This means I’ve got about an hour and a half to get some creative or investigative work done before I have to start attending meetings.

Once or twice a week I’ll use this time to keep up with political sections of the major newspaper sites, it’s a good idea for me and my team to keep up to speed on policy issues, locally and nationally.

I’d like to tell you more but the sensitive nature of my work for the government demands utmost secrecy. I know you will understand.

I am healthy and well and making lots of money.

(Like Travis Bickle, I’m God’s lonely man.)

It’s hard to say what a typical day is. We work with all manner of government departments and institutions with budgets ranging from tiny to some of the biggest spenders in Australia.

I’m lucky to have a very capable team - all are generalist strategic planners but among them I have three directors - each with their distinct experience and specialisms to add from Behavioural insights, Ehrenberg-Bass Marketing Science and Cultural Science.

In a general sense our remit involves working with information and putting it to use (to paraphrase Stanley Pollitt). This is not just marketing or media research but all the information available – in order to identify and help solve a client's problems.


Until recently I’d spent the bulk of my career in creative agencies and no suppliers ever wanted to take me to lunch.

It’s a different story in a media agency.

Everyone wants to take you out.

To keep it simple, I generally decline politely.

Not for any virtue-signaling reason, I’ve got a bit of a weird diet to follow (don’t ask), so it’s just easier to bring my own lunch.

Aside from client work our big project at the moment is further developing out our cultural insights platform, DIALECT (Diversity in Identity, Area, Linguistics, Ethnicity, Culture and Technology).

This platform allows us to explore and transform multiple cultural data inputs into usable market intelligence, mapping important cultural nuances – where they exist – and also the human universals that play out across cultures.

DIALECT is essentially our foray into the emerging field of applied Social Physics, fusing data analysis and mathematical laws of biology to understand group behaviour.

Today is our weekly review of the platform, and our Cultural Director, is taking me through the next set of iterations and incrementals. I nod and pretend to understand agile development methodology.

By mid-afternoon I’m already thinking about sleep.

I regard sleep as an essential part of my work.

At the moment I’m interested in 90-minute sleep cycles.

90mins is the optimum cycle, this means that you can feel more refreshed after 3 hours sleep than after 5 – waking after 5 hours means you have woken mid-cycle.

The psychologist Richard Wiseman says a good sleep is like a wash cycle on a washing machine – cleaning out your mind of the day’s memories that you don't need.

We all receive vast amounts of information during the day, and quite a lot of it – campaign tracker research reports, for example – can be totally useless, so this sorts out which memories are important and which to discard.

At this time of year the many articles that claim to reveal the top 24 (or more) marketing trends for 2017 can be safely set to boil wash.

A good way of distracting the mind and getting off to sleep is thinking of very positive scenarios.

I’ve come across many marketers who must be able to sleep very easily.

They are especially adept at building fantasy worlds in their head and should be able to drift off easily with very positive imagery of loyalty programs, social media engagement and suchlike.

Before the end of the day I have a catch-up on internal training with our Marketing Science expert in Canberra. She’s coming down in a couple of weeks to get us up to speed with the finer points of NBD-Dirichlet Distribution and Ehrenberg’s law of buying frequencies.


Back to the Honda Jazz and back to the freeway for the commute home. Tonight I listen to a couple of episodes of the BBC Radio 4 podcast ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage’ that I’ve been saving. Who would have thought that particle physics would be the new comedy?


At home, I try and park work stuff into my subconscious as much as possible and let it sort itself out while I'm doing other things.

Discerning creatives will be familiar with the seminal 1939 work by James Webb Young, entitled ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’.

Stage 3 of the 5 stage process Young outlines involves removing a problem you are trying to solve out of your conscious mind to stimulate the unconscious.

He likens it to how Sherlock Holmes would often stop right in the middle of a case, and drag Watson off to a cello recital, or something.

That was irritating to the practical minded Watson, but letting the unconscious chew on a problem was essential to the creative process for Holmes.

To let my own subconscious chew, I’ll take the dog out with my boy for a bit then when he’s tucked up maybe Mrs P and I will watch some written-by-algorithm series on Netflix, like ‘Designated Survivor’.

Or re-run old favourites like ‘Utopia’, ‘The West Wing’ or ‘The Thick of It’, anything just to try and switch off my mind from Government work.

I travel most weeks, back and forth to Canberra usually, so before bedtime I might pack my bag.

Flying time is good reading time. I’ve adopted the catchphrase ‘Nothing in advertising makes sense except in the light of evolution’ and I’m devouring a lot of evolutionary psychology just now.

Does all science and no novels make Jack a dull boy?

Round about 10.30pm it is time for some Peach Momotaro Blooming Tea, brewed from its own biodegradable tea temple and then I’m off to sleep for seven and a half hours exactly (that’s 5 sleep cycles).


I only promised to keep conspicuous authenticity and status-signaling to a manageable minimum.

Friday, February 03, 2017

legends of orson-ness

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles famous radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’s science fiction novel ‘War of the Worlds’ played on CBS Radio’s weekly ‘Mercury Theatre on the Air’ show.

Mercury Theatre’s regular theme was adapting classic literary works for radio broadcast.

By the late 30’s, much of America was adopting the new disruptive technology of radio for news and entertainment.

As part of the adaptation – and to fit with idea of presenting the play in the form of faux-news bulletins - Welles, his creative partner John Houseman, and writer Howard Koch selected the small town of Grovers Mill from a map of New Jersey to be the site of the alien invasion.

The rest is history, of course.

According to lore (and some allegedly scientific analysis - Hadley Cantril’s paper ‘The Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic’ a notable example) something in the region of one million Americans were sent into blind panic - some taking heart attacks and others committing suicide - all of them certain that New Jersey and America were under attack from Martian invaders.

The reality is a somewhat different story.

Very few listeners were duped by War of the Worlds.

For a start, the audience was pretty small.

Mercury Theatre went out against a long running and hugely popular NBC comedy show playing at the same time slot, which regularly scooped up upwards of 80% of the audience.

At the best of times Mercury Theatre accounted for only about 4-5%. Nothing approaching the one million number.

And most of those listeners were well aware that the show’s schtick was dramatic radio adaptation.

The stories of widespread panic were actually fabricated, and grossly exaggerated by the newspapers – most notably, The New York Times – in the subsequent days.

The story goes that the print media were looking to discredit this new emerging channel for news, the radio, as they viewed it as an imminent threat to their advertising revenue model, and therefore their existence.

So they cooked up a bit of fake news.

Not a bad strategy, it shifted the extra units.

The threat of death to printed news, or at least the advertising revenue, never materialized, and the free publicity for Mercury Theatre may even have helped make radio drama seem even sexier, and contributed to increase popularity. Who knows?

Either way, within 24 months post-War of the Worlds, Welles stock was so high he was able to do a total-control studio deal with RKO, and produce his first feature film, Citizen Kane; to this day widely regarded as one of the best movies of all time.

So it was win-win-win.

But, in a sense all news, is fake.

Brietbart and HuffPost, for example, will report on the same 'story' through different editorial lenses.

It could even be argued that biased media are actually more informative.

Readers with a particular political bias are bound to prefer the news media with a similar bias. It’s confirmation bias as strategy.

Or if you prefer, news consumption simply reflects behavioural loyalty.

Consumers like and know more about the news outlets they consume more regularly and know little about news outlets they do not consume.

And the current clamor from sections of the internet to pressure advertisers such as Amazon to cease advertising on sites like Breitbart – and theoretically cut off their revenue stream – has a familiar ring, don’t you think?