Monday, December 23, 2013

if you kissed me now I know you'd fool me again

Seasons greetings and that to everyone who's read and shared this blog throughout the year and also to everyone who's ideas and thinking has shaped the stuff written here.

As is traditional we finish off for Christmas with a tune.

Here's James from the Manics injecting some angst into Wham's Last Christmas.

Thanks again, and see you after the break.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

if you can think of it, it must be important

It's sobering to note that at the end of 2013 there are still people, clients, agencies and organisations out there who are in varying degrees of confabulation - driven by emotions ranging from blind terror to rapture - around the impact (both apparent and potential) of the social media for their businesses and communications.

This, of course, only contributes to further uncertainty and, as we know, under uncertainty, biases in judgement - most often created by too much (or indeed too little) information - will lead to errors of thinking (and doing).

While we could joke that this situation would be easier to navigate if only there were some experts out there to offer guidance?

Or some information websites on how to successfully leverage social media?

Perhaps even a webinar or two or a set of ebooks one could buy?

Ha, but the problem is clearly the former. Too much information.

And in this situation two cognitive biases exert disproportionate influence.

Firstly, the availability heuristic is a mental shortcut by which decisions are made based on how easily similar examples that come to mind.

As a result, we tend judge that those events or examples that are easier to think of are more frequent and possible than others. We routinely overestimate the likelihood of similar things happening in the future, and likewise we overestimate the importance of stories that seem to be everywhere (ie easily mentally available).

From a brand marketing point of view, this bias is one that can be extremely useful.

Brands that appear to be popular, that are easily noticed and remembered (mental availability) and with the best distribution (physical/virtual availability) tend to benefit from larger market share. For a small brand looking to grow then getting to grips with availability is crucial.

[Interestingly, and statistically, one is more likely to be killed by a refrigerator falling on one's head than in any act of terrorism, but incidents of terrorism come to mind much more easily and are believed to be far more common.]

On the downside, the idea that 'social media is the answer to all branding and marketing problems' is a hugely available idea, initially propagated within the social media itself by 'experts' and - not only but also - repeated, received-wisdom-style by all and sundry, so that it comes so easily to mind that surely it must be true.

The reality being that there are very very few examples of brands that have been built or grown substantially through social media alone. Go to a few social media conferences and you will very shortly collect the set as the same examples are trotted out at every event.

The idea that 'consumers' want to have deep emotional connections and engage with brands is also a hugely available idea, while statistically on any given week, less than 0.5% of Facebook fans will engage with any brand they are fans of.

Given that a brand's Facebook following will mostly represent but a tiny proportion of its customer base, and for the most part follow for (let's be honest) customer service and/or freebie purposes then it's not a great case for growth through 'engagement'.

A season spent on the conference trail will further compound as one notices the constant presence of availability's close cousin, the projection bias, in which we tend to assume that others feel exactly the same as we do.

Secondly, another close cousin of availability (and projection) and perhaps the most dangerous and widely visible of biases in the social media space is the confirmation bias.

Until recently this was perhaps best described as the social media bubble, fishbowl or echo chamber, in which members display tendencies to read material that confirms existing beliefs, pay more attention to information and people who confirm existing beliefs, and search for corroborative evidence to confirm existing beliefs.

Chuck in a dash of sunk-cost fallacy and it's easy to see why, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, there is now a whole industry of social media gurus who want the 'death of this or that' to be true, will cherry pick and spotlight anything that supports it, and then congratulate themselves on their accuracy.

The word guru has it's origins in Sanskrit, the primary liturgical language of Hinduism.

Much can be learned from ancient eastern wisdom, of course.
Not least a healthy skepticism of the self-annointed thought-leader or guru.

The Kularnava Tantra is an important and authoritative text of the Shakta Agamic tantra tradition and a major statement of Hindu spiritual thought, including this nugget.

‘…there are many gurus who may rob the disciple's wealth but few who can remove the disciple's afflictions…’

Humans are probably the only species with the ability to think about the future, yet that hasn't helped our ability to predict. In fact the only accurate prediction one can confidently make is that the majority of our predictions will be wrong.

My closing hope, as opposed to prediction, is that as an ad industry we can overcome our confabulation in the year ahead, understand properly the role that digital and social has in an overall communications piece (for a role they undoubtably have, but not the be-all and end-all) and focus on what's really important.

To be better at understanding the behaviour of people in buying situations and developing the kind of things and communications that have the best chance of influencing those behaviours.

And finally, to perhaps best illustrate that heady brew of availability and confirmation bias I leave you with this splendid cartoon, shared by Doddsy some time ago in an unrelated tweet, and one that has featured in a number of my presentations this year to illustrate some of the points contained in this note.

Friday, December 13, 2013

magic piano

Here's another nice little situational thing, a public intervention enhancing the mundane by use of 'invisible' digital technology.

Or possibly a man inside the piano.

Drawing in bystanders and spectators at Chicago Union Station.

The Magic Piano, allegedly responds to changes in the environment in real time.

Some of the participants in the clip are clearly actors (or direct agents, as we prefer to call them) but we still smiled.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

what is there to be seen and what we actually notice

The snippet below from Consumer.ology by Philip Graves - a tome who's place on the plannery types bookshelf should be taken as a given - gives further power to the argument that getting advertising and branding noticed in the first place and subsequently remembered in buying situations is our imperative.

And furthermore should raise alarm at how often and easily the lofty goals such as consumer engagement and deep emotional connections are trotted out as likely and achievable.

The reality being that people don't think about brands very much, nor do they know much about them or particularly care. While this sounds grim, what it really describes is the opportunity for creativity.

I think it was Dave Trott who said that the most important question on any creative brief, yet the one that rarely appears is 'how does this piece of advertising get noticed?'.

Anyway, I digress.

Here's the science bit.

"According to researchers from Penn University, the human eye can transmit approximately 10 million pieces of information per second. Regardless of the mind-boggling quantities of data involved, anyone who has ever spent any amount of time looking for something, and then found it in one of the places they had already checked, will know that there is a big difference between what is there to be seen and what we actually notice.

The highest estimates suggest that the most we’re able to process is around 40 pieces of information per second (from all our senses, not just visually), so you can forgive yourself for not finding those keys first time around!"

There is a big difference between what is there to be seen and what we actually notice.

In psychology one description of this phenomenon is 'inattentional blindness'.

Which leads me to this 'card-trick' from Richard Wiseman, kindly shared with us by Wiemer Snijders.

We are into card ticks this week, I played a simple one on the audience at AIMIA last week, as a faux-mass hypnosis memory experiment.

I subsequently recieved several messages asking how it was done.

As my magic-circle application is pending, unfortunately I can't reveal.

may I ask what you expected to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window?

In an episode of Fawlty Towers, Basil entertains a hard of hearing and somewhat curmudgeonly guest - Mrs Richards - who complains about some of the features of her room.

Mrs. Richards: And another thing. I booked a room with a view.

Basil: [Goes to the window] Yes, this is the view as I remember it, yes, yes, this is it.

Mrs. Richards: When I pay for a room with a view, I expect something more interesting than that.

Basil: That is Torquay madam.

Mrs. Richards: Well it's not good enough.

Basil: Well, may I ask what you expected to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the...?

Mrs. Richards: Don't be silly. I expect to be able to see the sea.

Basil: You can see the sea. It's over there between the land and the sky.

Mrs. Richards: I'd need a telescope to see that.

Perhaps the good people at Google Creative Labs had this in mind as they developed this splendid installation (not sure what to describe it as) as part of Sydney Opera House's 40th birthday celebrations last month.

The project, entitled Binoculars, entailed a special set of those vintage panoramic view binoculars (the ones that look like a face), installed on the footsteps of the Opera house.

Viewers who participated were then able to do what Mrs Richards was unable to in Torquay and view 40 other iconic locations around the world - including the Colorado River, the Palace of Versailles, and Shackleton's hut in Antarctica - using imagery from, and to demonstrate, Google Street View.

Thanks to Ciarán Norris, who kindly pointed me to this in recognition of my current infatuation with outdoor media enhanced with digital technologies.

The beauty being the ability deliver indiscriminate shared experiences for broad audiences without the baggage of tight targeting, faux-relevance and hyper-personalisation that the adtech world has misguidedly embraced.

The audience for this intervention is anyone with eyes and a sense of curiosity.

The future of digital advertising is out-door :). Here's the Fawlty Towers clip too.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

when saturday comes

I was speaking for the Australian interactive media industry body, AIMIA, this week and last week.

The events were their annual 'Future of Digital' seminars in Sydney and also Melbourne.

I did my usual controversy, which seemed to go down reasonably well.

One of the other speakers was Laurie Patton, the Media and Entertainment Exec Director from Telstra.
We chatted before and after and he was a very nice and smart fella.

He nonchalantly dropped this anecdote in his talk but it struck me as being something of an insight that I had not considered before.

Amongst his duties at Telstra Laurie is working with a number of sports stadia in Australia to integrate digital technology into live sporting events, to enhance them in situ.

The remarkable point Laurie made was that stadia owners and operators are cognisant of the sports viewing experience at home becoming more of an 'experience' than attending in real-life.

In an unexpected flip (to these ears at least) viewing at home on TV with connected devices etc offering in running stats, multiple camera angles and replays (and close proximity to the fridge) is potentially more attractive than the schlep to the stadium and is therefore increasingly a challenge to both the stadia and sporting associations.

Good luck to Laurie and his people in solving this conundrum.

On the one hand it's further fuel to the 'TV is not dead and nor is it likely to be dead anytime soon' lobby and also my own pet thought that the media channel that stands to benefit more from the introduction of digital-ness is the humble out-of-home.

feel good hit of the summer? (or winter - choose your hemisphere)

A textbook case of how how to have a viral hit and maximising brand effect.

Using branding and market-based assets throughout (purple Santa and Elves was a nice touch) – tick

Evoking high arousal emotional response (i.e. reason to share) INSPIRATION, EXHILARATION, ASTONISHMENT – tick

Presented in the context of brand use and occasion - tick

Creative device? - 'personal triumph (sort of)' - tick

Probably backed with significant paid promotion and seeding upfront to maximise initial reach - (assumed) tick

Also worth noting: another example of doing something first - a situational or cultural intervention - then advertising what you have done.

Congratulations, WestJet.

Friday, December 06, 2013

a friday note on distribution and sharing a coke

This short World Cup 2014 film for Coca-Cola by Ogilvy in Shanghai has almost everything required to be be a viral hit, yet it isn't (yet).

Why should that be?

Here's some clues, from the appliance of science.

In Chapter 4 of 'Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing' by Karen Nelson-Field from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute (the chapter is entitled, 'Not all Fart jokes are Funny') Karen imparts the following.

In the course of her team's extensive research they find no correlations between sharing and the particular creative device used in a film, neither were there links between specific emotions and creative device, but there are relationships between the degree of emotional arousal felt and likelyhood of sharing activity.

They describe this as high arousal emotional response.

The one exception to the rule is when the creative device employed is 'personal triumph' - this shares significantly more even with low arousal emotions.

To get shared, the general lesson is to focus less on which creative device is applied and more on how arousing the creative is. So far so good for Coke and Ogilvy Shanghai, the film has all the ingredients

But that's not the whole story.

Karen and her team challenge the common belief that the key to spreading is in infecting a few adopters in order to reach millions over time.

This is the most available idea of how the diffusion of content occurs.

The evidence however says that this is the opposite of what actually happens.

Apart from a few cherry picked exceptions (the ones that appear in the social media case studies) the diffusion curve is, in fact, negative - after launch the degree of penetration for a video drops after a short period of time.

And, assuming it's compelling content, evokes high arousal emotional response, the single biggest other predictor of online video sharing is it's initial distribution.

According to Karen's research, for the best performing videos the ratio about 8 views to 1 share.

For others that perform reasonably well 24 to 1 is the average.

So to get mass sharing, initial seeding/paid support is key. Assuming the video is good and pulls the tricks above, then it needs to be put in front of as many people as possible in order to spread.

A few 'influencers' will not cut the mustard, most of the time.

One can only assume that little paid promotion has been put behind this terrific little film - a story of personal triumph - or else it would be a viral smash.

Likewise the many other Coca-Cola World Cup films in the series, from around the world, all of which are languishing with very few views and shares in YouTube.

Don't tell me Coca-Cola don't have a few bob to stick behind this great content.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

make the logo bigger, eaon

I got hammered by some commenters on Mumbrella for suggesting that the John Lewis Christmas ad, while a stunning piece of content, creativity and all that, is best viewed as an exception rather than a rule in terms of the amount of branding available in the film.

I noted that for most brands - and the challenge of mental availability - it is advisable to introduce distinctive brand assets into their content quicker and more frequently than the John Lewis example.

I stand by my remarks, and offer this by way of an example.

Is this piece of RedBull media any less exciting because of the presence of branding?

Monday, November 25, 2013

excuse me while I kiss the sky

The Asch conformity experiments were a series of laboratory experiments by psychologist Solomon Asch in the 1950s.

The various experiments demonstrated the degree to which an individual's own opinions and behaviours can be influenced by those of a majority group

The Asch experiments informed the idea about social proof that we often use in advertising.

8 out of 10 cats and suchlike.

Essentially people will often do things that they see other people are doing.Especially similar others.

One experiment, easily replicable and with predictable results is the one in which one or more direct agents in a public space would point up into the sky, as though there is something to see.

Bystanders, or passive spectators if you prefer - will predictably stop to look up into the sky to see what the other are looking at.

My hunch is that some of this background was influential in the creation of this fantastic bit of digital outdoor created by Ogilvy for British Airways.

Who among us has not gazed up to the heavens at a climbing plane and not thought 'I wonder where that one is off to?'.

And then thought 'Wherever it's going, I wish I was on it'.

The lesson? It's easy to lose sight - amid all the huffing and puffing about what advertising does or does not do - of the simple fact that the fundamental, number one task advertising has to perform is to get noticed in the first place.

Gold Lion in Outdoor.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fridays Angels: links of the week 22|11|13

The latest attempt at a recurring feature in this journal.

Friday's Angels will hopefully be one post every Friday with a handful of links of interest from around the web this week.

This week here's three favourites.

Squat the…?
As an entertaining and rewarding nudge to promote exercise (in the context of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia) OlympicChanges installed a very special ticket machine at a Moscow subway station.
Instead of accepting money as payment, the ticket machine only accepted exercise.
Riders receive a free ticket by standing in front of the machine’s camera, and performing 30 squats or lunges.


Sharing fast and slow?
The psychological connection between how we think and how we spread news on social media.
What drives sharing? It’s a mix of attention, emotion, and reaction. Here’s hard data on which news stories took off and which didn’t on social.
Obviously 'Fast and Slow' is a riff on Daniel Kahneman's thinking, and most of the points in this article refer directly to some of those key concepts.

read Sharing Fast and Slow


How to protect yourself from 'prediction addiction'.
I always say 'never make predictions'.
Particularly about the future.
We can't stop second–guessing what's coming next. Our need to gaze into the entrails of the markets – what Jason Zweig, the behavioural finance expert, calls our "prediction addiction" – is hard-wired into our brains.
But the one really predictable thing about our forecasts is that most of them will turn out to be wrong.

read Prediction Addiction

Thursday, November 21, 2013

dog's dinner

Richard Rumelt's Good Strategy/Bad Strategy is just so full of sense and nuggets that it would be easy to just quote the whole book.

Such is it's dip-in-and-out-ability, it's handy to have at one's side to be referenced on almost any occasion.

This passage seemed to resonate this week as a kind of slice of agency life...

'One form of bad strategic objectives occurs when there is a scrambled mess of things to accomplish—a “dog’s dinner” of strategic objectives.

A long list of “things to do,” often mislabeled as “strategies” or “objectives,” is not a strategy.

It is just a list of things to do.

Such lists usually grow out of planning meetings in which a wide variety of stakeholders make suggestions as to things they would like to see done.

Rather than focus on a few important items, the group sweeps the whole day’s collection into the “strategic plan.”

Then, in recognition that it is a dog’s dinner, the label “long-term” is added so that none of them need be done today.'

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

a note on salience and the purpose of branding

As much for myself as for anyone reading this, it's worth - from time to time - to have a quick refresh on the fundamental purpose of branding.

The purpose of branding is to identify the source of any given product or service, and to help us, buyers, make quicker decisions that require less processing/ thought

This is why branding was invented.

This requires the use of things and characteristics that distinguish one brand from other competitors.

First and foremost is, obviously, the brand name itself.
Along with with other distinctive elements of a brand identity.

Coke has the colour red, and the bottle shape, for example.
And taglines - 'Just Do It', 'Think Different' etc.

All of these things help buyers to notice, recognise and remember the brand, in buying situations, and are the most important parts of advertising.

A great creative idea is a great commercial creative idea when it acts as the vehicle to get the brand noticed and remembered.

The more distinctive and salient these ideas are then the more links are made in memory, therefore the easier it is for the brand to be identified and remembered at the right time.

One of the ideas from psychology literature that it's important to recognise and apply in these situations is the idea of the 'availability' heuristic.

Whereby we tend to estimate the likelyhood of events by how easy it is to think of similar examples.

For instance one is statistically far more likely to be killed by a refrigerator falling on top of you than in any act of terrorism, but because examples of terrorism attacks come most easily to mind we fear those more.

In the advertising industry bubble one has no problem in identifying the latest John Lewis Christmas ad, in part, simply because of the availability of the discussion, within the bubble, around the ad this week.

It would be an error, however, to assume that anything approaching the same amount of discussion and dissection has happened in the lives of ordinary people.

However, for John Lewis, to get noticed and remembered by a mass of people in a buying situation would be the ultimate result, and with a huge PR and integrated push around this 'ad-as-event' it looks to have succeeded.

But it is interesting to watch the video below, and notice how little 'branding' ordinary people take away from the ad on first look, and how many other brands they speculate could be the providers of the content before it is finally revealed.

Also recognise how easily this could have been fixed by inserting distinctive branding throughout the spot.

Therein lies the lesson for the rest of us.

That's not to say it's not a great piece of creativity, and without doubt evokes an emotional response, but as commercial creativity it's an exception rather than the rule.

For most brands, even the greatest creativity cannot act as a substitute for establishing the brand name, the source of the product or service, if it doesn't prime the viewer to remember the brand name it fails.

Waiting until 1:57 to reveal is a risk for all but the most compelling content.

I'm being slightly harsh, John Lewis are big enough, popular enough, famous enough - and the JL Christmas ad is an 'event' anticipated by the public - to get a pass (ha!) this time, but we should be mindful not to take this example as case in point or applicable to the majority of our clients.

thanks to Martin Weigel who tweeted the vid.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

because I'm in love with rock'n'roll double jeapordy

The marketing phenomenon that is perhaps the hardest one for many marketers to stomach, the duplication of purchase law, can be described for us nicely and pop-punk-ily in Ready Steady Go by Generation X.

I was in love with The Beatles (ooooohh!)
I was in love with The Stones (no satisfaction!)
I was in love with Bobby Dylan
Because I'm in love with rock'n'roll

Very, very few people are 100% loyal to any single brand.

People who bought the Beatles also bought the Stones and bought Dylan.

A brand only gets big by attracting less committed buyers (although they may be heavy buyers of the category) to buy a bit more often.

Exclusive brand loyalty is largely a myth, and focussing effort on cultivating it is commercially unwise.

People who bought Generation X also bought the Pistols, the Clash and the Jam.

Unfortunately, in the UK, the Pistols and the Jam attracted more light buyers than Gen X did.
Presumably that's why Billy eventually bailed out and relaunched himself in a bigger market (the USA) with a bigger label and more reach and went on to be one of the biggest pop acts of the 80's.

And Tony launched Sigue Sigue Sputnik as a mass media spectacle, creating huge mental availability before any physical product was available to buy, which subsequently led to massive rapid growth.

Indeed Gen X probably suffered under the law of 'Double Jeopardy'.

The Jam, for example, were rewarded twice: they not only had more buyers, but these buyers also boughty more often (thus with greater loyalty). Whereas a smaller brand like Gen X were sadly punished twice: they had fewer buyers who bought less often.

Yes, it's true that bigger brands do receive slightly more loyalty than smaller brands.
But the big difference is not about how loyal their customers are, but simply that they have so many more of them.

The Clash would have been much bigger than they were if they had gone on Top of The Pops and reached a larger audience beyond simply the hardcore of Clash fans. In walked U2 a couple of years later and stole their chops and thunder.

Indeed the rejection of Top of The Pops by the Clash could be interpreted as something of a 'sunk cost fallacy', there is something of a dissonance at play as their decision to tour as support for the Who (mass audience, light buyers, Shea Stadium etc) helped them the huge selling Combat Rock album in '82, just before the band imploded.

To a large degree success begets success. It's driven by the ability to scale.

Moreover, brands share their customers with other brands in the category and usually in line with their market share.
It's no surprise that Billy was in love with the Beatles, the Sones and Dylan. The three biggest and most popular rock'n'roll acts of the 60's.

So while people do have loyalties to a degree, they are promiscuous.
People are pretty happy to buy from a number of brands in a category.

It doesn't mean they like you less, but it's a mistake to expect devotion from anything but a very few.

Sure, the few need to be looked after but if you have the chance, ask the world to dance.

Or you'll be dancing with yourself.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

making the brand easy to buy

Creatives will hate this, and it won't trouble any award shows but I'd put money on it being super effective advertising.

To paraphrase Prof Byron…

'What works in branding is surprisingly simple – making the brand easy to buy by maximising it’s physical and mental availability'.

Combine Old Spice guy and prominent Coles branding (two memorable sets of distinctive brand assets = mental availability) And I can buy it in Coles (physical availability).

Thursday, November 07, 2013

right on target so direct, you're gonna make me lonesome when you go.

Ever wondered how some of the ads in the music/fashion/motor/gossip etc magazines you read on your way to work, the same ads every reader of the magazine sees, seemed strangely more relevant than the highly targeted data-driven ads you are subjected to on something like Facebook when you fire up your computer?

How can this be, when nature of brand advertising is not personal?
It knows nothing about you, yet this fact is one of the reasons why it works so well (when it's done well).

From Bob's 'Tangled up in Blue'.

'Then she opened up a book of poems and handed it to me,
Written by an Italian poet from the thirteenth century,
And every one of them words rang true and glowed like burning coal,
Pouring off of every page like it was written in my soul from me to you,
Tangled up in blue..'

Whether Bob is experiencing a moment of clarity or simply subjective validation is unimportant.

General human truths connect, they appear to be highly personal and relevant because something is true if a one's belief demands it to be true.

But hang on, my highly targeted social media campaign delivered incredible response rates?

It’s hugely tempting to get excited about response rates but it’s important to note that response rates are, in fact, not a very good indicator of effectiveness.

For a start, your followers on Facebook and Twitter are, for the most part, already your customers, and they are a tiny section of your customer base, among your heaviest and most loyal buyers.

So therefore an 40% response from targeting 10,000 people Facebook is less in terms of total responses than a 10% response from targeting 100,000 people anywhere else.

Plus the fact that the response rate is so high is skewed as these buyers would probably have bought anyway, at some point.

It’s the equivalent of handing out coupons inside your store.

That's not to say that gathering a group of enthusiasts has no value.
But these customers should be viewed as an asset not an audience.
An asset that requires putting to work to share, amplify and reach new people.

Here’s the thing about targeting and relevance. These are not the same thing.

And even in a direct marketing sense, precision targeting can actually be counter to effectiveness.

Highly targeted campaigns are fashionable with short-termist marketers because they typically deliver high arse-covering ROI in the short term, but don’t deliver growth in the long term (and in some cases can be counter to growth – as even the most loyal of customers tend to become less loyal over time, ergo targeting these customers at the expense of acquisition can make the brand smaller) but that’s for the next marketing director to worry about.

The objective must be to reach as many buyers in the category as possible – most importantly the buyers of competing brands – because growth and profit comes from here, not from existing customers.

Because the purpose of brand advertising is not to persuade or coerce individuals but is to create brand salience - the propensity of the brand to be noticed or come to mind in buying situations by more people.

So the great thing about brand advertising is exactly that it is unable to deliver precision targeting and lacks quantifiable ROI.

If the old adage 50% percent of advertising is wasted, but we don’t know which 50% is true, then perhaps we could say the 50% that’s wasted is the 50% that actually works.


Perhaps the Facebook like button redesign may result in what might be described as 'off-strategy' consumption in some parts of the world.

Readers familiar with the Doric dialect from my native north-east of Scotland will know that the greeting 'fit like?' is how the natives address each other. Often preceded with something like 'aye aye min'.

Loosely translated into English this phrase means 'how are you?'.

In common conversation the 'fit' is often shortened to 'f' and the greeting therefore becomes 'f'like'.

So I'll now be using the F-Like button as a simple greeting, and not necessarily an endorsement.

Social media experts please now factor this in to your important deep engagement/conversation metrics.

Monday, October 28, 2013

can you feel it?

I don't normally overtly pimp the agency work in these pages, but indulge me as I summarise the story of how we took Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Beethoven’s 7th Symphony to the heart of Melbourne.

And captured the imagination of the people of the city by immersing them in the experience.


We needed to frame the MSO experience as accessible, desirable and relevant to a diverse mass audience of music and culture loving Melbourne-ites and drive sales of single tickets in 2014.

We knew that the MSO, and orchestral music in general, is often perceived as being inaccessible, elitist or requiring some specialist practical understanding of the theories of music in order to be enjoyed.

So we wanted to demonstrate that you shouldn’t have to know anything at all.

Because it’s something that you feel.

If we could show a mass audience of ‘people-like-me’ immersed in that experience, feeling something together we could democratise the MSO and attract new customers.

We launched their new brand campaign ‘Don’t Just Hear It…Feel It’ and the 2014 program by turning the forecourt at Southern Cross Station into a concert hall…

Last Monday lunchtime, over 50 lucky commuters, from toddlers to the elderly, were able to conduct the 40-piece orchestra themselves, while hundreds of surprised commuters looked on.

Within hours the story was picked up by the national TV news networks (Channel 9, Channel 10 and ABC News) and newspapers.

So what was our strategy?
(channeling John Grant - note for the ad nerds)

Immerse a mass of people in a richly detailed setting.
Make it larger than life, prompting childlike wonder.
Capture that experience and broadcast it to everyone else.

If you've made it this far also check the extended 12" remix.

The campaign launches today. Results to follow.

first thing you learn is you always gotta wait

In 1967 the biggest selling and most popular US album was 'More of the Monkees'. Extremely popular, millions of copies sold.

Also released in 1967 was The Velvet Underground's first album 'The Velvet Underground and Nico'.

The Velvets never troubled the top 100 album chart with this, or any of their subsequent albums, but nigh on every one of the brave souls who witnessed a Velvets performance or purchased the album went on to form their own bands or become painters, or artists of some description.

The 'influence' of the Velvets can still be felt as it permeated right through much of the important music from 1967 to this day. Although in 1967 no-one knew that they would be influential, their influence was only apparent after it had happened.

And looking at the long game the Velvets and Lou ultimately outsold the Monkees.

Lou's Transformer is as much an iconic punk document as anything else of the time, even though it's from '72.

In my first punky band as a teenager the bass player's art teacher force fed us Transformer, along with The Stooges 'Raw Power' and (somewhat out of left-field, it must be noted) The Mothers of Invention's Freak Out and bits of John Coltrane.

Later, as a young art student in 1984 my Velvets album was a permanent 'under the arm' fixture - as a signifier.

I also recall petitioning the art materials shop within the college to stock the first Velvets album, as an essential material for new students, along with their paints and canvas.

The true measure of 'influence' is what happens as a result of exposure to said influence.
How the idea propagates and what people do with the idea, over time.

Lou Reed. March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

There's more to life than books, you know. But not much more.

Has Penguin Classics 'chucked 67 years of editorial rigour and learning out of the corporate window and kowtow to the whims of a petulant pop icon' or is it that 'a single, fixed idea no longer suffices in the modern business'.

My sense is that the latter is closer to correct.

While the release of Morrissey's 'Autobiography' on the Penguin Classic label appears to have offended the sensibilities of certain elements of the literati one can't help wondering if this is a splendid demonstration of a kind of arch detournement from the Mozfather and further fuel to the notion that the quest for, or perhaps preservation of authenticity is but status-seeking/maintaining.

Presumably, for those disgruntled authenticateurs Morrissey is less authentic than Linton Kwesi Johnson, who collected poems have also been published via the Classic moniker.

But for Morrissey it's something of a marketing masterstroke.

Talk about salient, noticeable and refreshing existing memory structures.

Of course his book had to come out on the same 'label' as Wilde et al.
The Penguin Classic in hand or in back pocket is as distinctive a Mozzer brand asset as the hearing aid or gladioli.

And Penguin its growing their brand, attracting those new/lighter buyers again, for whom this tome will partner that other Penguin Classic - the copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray - that they already own.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

inattentional blindness and a plug for @gapjumpers

In their book The Invisible Gorilla, titled after the now famous Gorilla experiment in inattentional blindness (vid below if you're one of the few who have never seen it), authors Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons make a point about how experts often miss information that novices will pick up.

In their examples, experienced pilots can often be less likely to notice an unexpected plane on a runway than new pilots who have only landed a plane a few times. Similarly, experienced doctors can sometimes find it harder to diagnose a rare condition than a trainee doctor or recent graduate.

This is because the more experience one has in any given situation, the more one sees similar conditions over and over again.
Therefore one becomes blind (to a degree) to outliers, extremely infrequent occurrences and randomness.

Over time, we (humans) have developed a number of ways of managing choices more easily.
Most commonly we'll raid our existing stocks of knowledge and beliefs in order to manage new choice situations.

If previous similar decisions have involved certain biases and/or beliefs then those pre-existing behaviours will be likely to exert disproportionate influence on future situations.

That's a long way round to this pimp for Gapjumpers.

GapJumpers is a platform that connects experts that need help solving business problems and young people, so that young people can earn recommendations for their skills.


Being recommended, by an industry expert or someone at a company is the fastest way to getting a job, but young people often lack the network and work experience to get recommended. So it helps them gain that credibility.

And from this advertising planner's point of view, the fact of being very experienced means sometimes that one does see similar conditions over and over again, sometimes one does find it harder to uncover fresh insights, or new research than a fresh aspiring planner who has had less time to develop certain biases.

But I'm in good company with these foibles as people from W+K, Ogilvy Sau Paulo, Google, TBWA, ZeusJones have posted challenges and had young planners contribute insights and research.

The Gapjumpers people are, of course, friends of this blog. Have a look at and see if there's a problem you are grappling with that some fresh brainpower might help to solve.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

pablo picasso was never called an asshole (or the futility of authenticity part 2)

When a mysterious and previously unlisted Picasso painting fell into the hands of one of his most serious (bourgoise) collectors, the lucky enthusiast took it to the artist himslf in order that Pablo could authenticate the piece in person.

Unfortunately, Picasso took one look at the painting and declared it an imposter.

Not to be deterred, the hapless collector purchased another piece and, again, took this to the artist for authentication.

Sadly, Picasso again declared that the piece was a fake.

In a last ditch attempt our collecter commissioned a bespoke work, and then proceeded to watch over Picasso himself as he made the painting, in order that he could be sure of its authenticity, by witnessing its creation with his own eyes.

Upon completion, Picasso yet again declared the new painting to be a fake.

The puzzled collector protested 'But I saw you paint this one with my own eyes?'.

To which the deadpan Pablo replied 'I can paint a fake Picasso better than anyone'.

the futility of authenticity

We've recently been reading Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

Goffman is considered  to be perhaps the most influential sociologist of recent times.

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life - first published in 1959 -provides a detailed analysis of process and meaning in mundane interaction.

By mundane interaction Goffman means; ordinary face-to-face interactions among people in various social situations.

Goffman's method is the 'dramaturgical approach'.

He is principally concerned with the different modes of 'presentation' employed by people and therefore the meaning of each in its social context.

In essence, all human interactions are 'performance', shaped by by environment, audience, and constructed in order to provide others with 'impressions' that are consonant with the desired goals of the actor.

According to Goffman, one's social identity is a series of 'fronts'.

There is no 'authentic' 'self'.

All the world is a stage

Human social interactions are all performances conducted when on-stage, in social situations. Solitary moments - the closest thing to notions of 'self-ness' - being the equivalent of 'back-stage' pre and post performance.

What hope then for brands in finding an 'authentic voice' or being 'authentic'?
Or the much asserted millennial consumer quest for authenticity?

People are aways competing for status. Products and brands are signifiers of that status.

So, even being anti-consumption is still conspicuous, 'authenticity' is simply the new 'cool'
The fatal flaw is that even when one claims remove's oneself from the competition for status in the mainstream you are simply joining the competition for status in a different sphere.

'What? You mean you still actually BUY products? We only share and freecycle'

Sadly, the call for authentic brands, authentic voices is ultimately futile.

All social interaction is intrinsically inauthentic and performance.
In fact the performance itself is the only authenticity.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

masterclass in the construction of situations

According to Debord et al a constructed situation is a ‘moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and game of events.’

A situation is designed to be lived by its participants.
It’s not just ambience, it’s an integrated ensemble of behaviour.
Situations require:

1. A temporary director or orchestrator.
The orchestrator is responsible for coordinating the basic elements necessary in the construction of the situation, and for conducting certain interventions.

2. Direct agents
The direct agents living the situation, who have taken part in creating the collective project and worked on the practical composition of the ambience.

3. Passive spectators
Passive spectators who have not participated in the constructive work, BUT whom can/should be forced into action.

In other words, a denotative lesson in how to do 21st century advertising.

1. Do something first
2. Make it surprising (funny, terrifying etc add your visceral emotion of choice)
3. Then advertise what you have done.

Do the above with skill and creativity, throw in a bit of luck and you might have a hit.
With circa 1million views in under 24 hours this one looks like a hit.

more science plus creativity #littlelesslittlemore

We know that in conditions of some uncertainty (in this case the modification of behaviour or adoption of new-ish behaviours), biases in judgement, and in particular those influenced by the availablity too much or too little information, can lead to less than desirable outcomes.

So, while the execution here, in the current campaign for Blackmore's, seems straight-forward and simple there's a real depth of understanding that makes it so sweet.

Habits are important.
'Little Less Little More' is all about describing how easy to establish new, better habits.
Because habits are more easily established than we believe. Sometimes with only one or two goes.

People are motivated to ‘do the right thing’.
Again, make it easy and fun to adopt and DO the desired behaviour and it will be more likely to happen. You will never think yerself fitter.

We are loss-averse, so the dislike of losses almost always outweighs the liking of gains.
This is compounded by the Endowment effect - whereby people disproportionately value what’s already theirs, so the appearance of taking away perceived 'benefits' or punishing behaviours often causes resistance and can be counter effective. Little less of this is balanced by a little more of that. And most of the little more 'thats' are ones that you actually like.

Most importantly, people need to feel involved and effective to make a changes.
This one is straight out of the psychology of persuasion.
The commitment and consistency effect.
People want to be consistent with what they have previously said or done, so ssk for small commitments first then bigger ones Even better, get them in writing.

The web extension of the campaign does exactly this.

The line goes 'At Blackmores we’re encouraging you to make small positive changes that are achievable and sustainable Choose what you want to do a little LESS and a little MORE of and make your commitment today.'

Finally, the behaviour of other people matters.
Let's have a look at what everyone else is doing then.

Like we said the other AND creativity. What a concept.

aural sculpture

So I made my Beancast debut yesterday with Joseph Jaffe, Jay Baer, Kate Berg and host Bob Knorpp.

Topics discussed were:

RTM And Being Nimble,
3D Printing,
Context vs. Tactics For Wearables,
Where To Put That Content,
and Consumers Avoiding Brands On Social.

Jump over to BeanCast HQ for a listen or better still subscribe.

Thanks again to Bob for having me on. Hopefully we'll do it again sometime.

Friday, October 04, 2013


I don't know how it took me so long to get round to reading Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt.

Aside from being choc full of wisdom it's a hoot.

Rumelt describes one of the hallmarks of Bad Strategy as 'Fluff'.

'Fluff is superficial restatement of the obvious combined with a generous sprinkling of buzzwords.

Fluff masquerades as expertise, thought, and analysis. As a simple example of fluff in strategy work, here is a quote from a major retail bank’s internal strategy memoranda: “Our fundamental strategy is one of customer-centric intermediation.”

The Sunday word “intermediation” means that the company accepts deposits and then lends them to others.

In other words, it is a bank. The buzz phrase “customer-centric” could mean that the bank competes by offering depositors and lenders better terms or better service.

But an examination of its policies and products does not reveal any distinction in this regard. The phrase “customer-centric intermediation” is pure fluff.

Pull off the fluffy covering and you have the superficial statement “Our bank’s fundamental strategy is being a bank.”

Thursday, October 03, 2013

science AND creativity. what a concept.

It's interesting to unpack the latest iteration of the Coca-Cola Happiness campaign - this execution appears to be initially out of Amsterdam - from an evidence based marketing standpoint.

If you've followed this blog at all in the last couple of years there's been something of an about turn over time as the point-of-view has shifted from a digital-centric view to one much more influenced by investigations into the science of advertising and how that combines with things like behavioural economics and bits of other social sciences.

One of the key influences in this turn about has been getting to grips somewhat with some marketing science principles outlined by Dr Byron Sharp, Professor of Marketing Science at the University of South Australia and Director at Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, in his book How Brands Grow.

Dr Sharp debunks a lot of conventional marketing theory and proposes a framework for building brands based on what works in scientific practice.

In a nutshell How Brands Grow identifies that real challenge of marketing is principally about availability – mental availablity and physical availability.

The splendid Coca-Cola activation appears to be an almost text-book example of this practice, in practice.

In the clip you'll see the Coca-Cola truck take-over a grey urban space by creating a pop-up park resplendent with trees, grass and a Coke vending machine. Passers-by are invited to kick off off their shoes and receive a free coke.

The activation seems to match HBG's seven rules for brand growth to the letter.

1. Continuously reach all buyers of the category – avoid being silent.
While always-on is a social media buzzword de jour, real always-on means being constantly being available.
The Happiness campaign (of which this is an iteration) never stops, and hasn't stopped.

2. Ensure the brand is easy to buy (communicate how the brand fits with the users life).
This iteration is entitled ‘Where Will Happiness Strike Next?'. Coke brings you happiness. This is how it fits. The emotional outcome rather than a fabled emotional 'connection'.

3. Get noticed (grab attention and focus on brand salience to prime the users mind).
Case in point. And watch your mirror neurons fizzing.
This is actually a piece of real social media, a social object. A public intervention that lets people see each other so that they can copy each other.

4. Refresh and build memory structures (respect existing associations that make the brand easy to notice and easy to buy).
The physical cue of taking of shoes and stepping on the grass is a nice little bonus hedonic boost. And you get rewarded for doing something. Attitudes follow behaviour, remember.

5. Create and use distinctive brand assets (use sensory cues to get noticed and stay top of mind).
The coke bottle shaped grass, red everywhere amongst the grey. Happy smiling people using the product. Simple.

6. Be consistent (avoid unnecessary changes, whilst keeping the brand fresh and interesting).
One could argue that coherence rather than consistency is better description but again, the brand idea remains the same as it ever was, the creativity is in finding new exciting expressions of the core idea.

7. Keep the brand is easy to buy and avoid giving excuses not to buy eg by targeting a particular group or groups.
Look at the people in the video. Theres no segmentation going on here. Happiness (ergo Coke) is for everyone.
Even the multi-ligual intro indicates this.

So what if it's semi-staged. It's advertising.

Science AND creativity. What a concept.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

pigs on the wing

A common assumption in advertising, based on not much more than that it is simply the most common and available explanation, is that we have to change attitudes before we affect behaviour.

How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Only one but the lightbulb has to WANT to change. kinda thing.

In reality, however, doing something first makes us feel different after.

It's attitudes that result from actions which lead to explanations which then form beliefs.

The common example being that if one wants to get motivated to get fit then the way to do that is drag yourself to the gym under duress. The doing begets the motivation.

Getting started with action is the hard part, the motivation comes after.

In fact the consistency principle in marketing psychology springs directly from this.

People want to be consistent with what they have previously said or done.

So asking for very small, easy commitments first means that those who participate will be more likely to be receptive to a bigger ask, later.

Knowing this is why we, at Boat HQ, always have a soft spot for action-oriented marketing.

Compassion in World Farming connected an interactive billboard in London to a free-range farm in Buckinghamshire.

Passers-by were invited (at 1GBP a pop) to virtually throw 'apples' at the billboard and trigger a catapult on the farm to throw real apples them to the hungry free-range pigs at the farm.

The 1GBP price point was the nice touch. Not only was there an action/commitment but those effects were reinforced by the addition of the (albeit very small) cash commitment.

Compassion in world farming from shwan hamidi on Vimeo.

good habits, bad habits

“But who are we, really?

Just a bundle of good genes and bad genes mixed with good habits and bad habits.

And since there's no gene for coolness or confidence, then being uncool and unconfident are just bad habits, which can be changed with enough guidance and will power.”

― Neil Strauss, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

midnight to stevens

To coincide with the release of the box set Sound System, Google Play has produced a 5 part documentary, Audio Ammunition, with the surviving members The Clash, each part focussing on one of the five most important albums.

The Guy Stevens produced London Calling is still up there with the greatest ever rock'n'roll sets and in part three of the doco Paul Simonen reminds us of this classic Stevens-ism.

The ability to seamlessly mix rampant ego-mania with humble deference being genius of sorts.

'There are only two Phil Spectors in the world... and I'm one of them!'

See the Open Culture blog post with all five films.

Monday, September 23, 2013

it was going to be pie in the sky

There's a old adage that goes something like 'good scientists are as happy to be proven wrong as right. What makes them happy is the proof itself'.

The same can be said for planning.

Contrary to the beliefs of some of my colleagues (ha) I'm just as happy when the application of certain principles may not work the way we intended. Whichever way it goes we've learned something.

One persuasion principle that works more often than not in advertising is the 'liking' principle.

People are generally more open to suggestion when the message comes from someone, or some brand they like, or indeed if the message is presented in a way that is likable.

We are more likely to say yes to someone who pay us compliments, or whom we feel like will co-operate with us.

One way of leveraging the principle of liking is to share something in common before we start negotiating.

Because we generally tend to like people who are similar to us.

This principle has a high strike rate but doesn't always work.

I enjoyed this example from Laurie Taylor's 'Thinking Allowed' Radio 4 sociology program.

A Labour politician had developed a winning formula when canvassing in a downtrodden area of London where many of his constituents lived in tower blocks.

The candidate would ring all the bells on a particular floor in order to get 4 or 5 voters on the landing at once, therefore giving himself more of an audience for his pitch.

This saved time and also he understood that his constituents had more propensity to be influenced by each other than in one on one situations so there was a fair chance that he could take advantage of another principle (social influence/herding). So far so good.

Our politician's opening gambit would include sharing something in common with his targets.

He would use the 'liking' principle, usually along the lines of explaining that they could trust him because he came from the same area as them.

Until one day when he rang four bells but only one old woman answered her door.

Deprived of a group audience our politician still pitched with his 'You can trust me, I'm from this area, too' opener.

To which the old woman replied from behind the slightly ajar door, with security chain still in place...

'I wouldn't trust anybody who comes from round here'.

Friday, September 20, 2013

always think you are going to win

Sir Alex: 'I am a gambler—a risk taker—and you can see that in how we played in the late stages of matches. If we were down at halftime, the message was simple: Don’t panic. Just concentrate on getting the task done.

If we were still down—say, 1–2—with 15 minutes to go, I was ready to take more risks. I was perfectly happy to lose 1–3 if it meant we’d given ourselves a good chance to draw or to win.

So in those last 15 minutes, we’d go for it. We’d put in an extra attacking player and worry less about defense. We knew that if we ended up winning 3–2, it would be a fantastic feeling. And if we lost 1–3, we’d been losing anyway.'

changing a habit with one interaction

While mindful of not confusing repeat purchase, or habit, with loyalty, a lesson for us could be; that when we are designing experiences that require customers to complete any set of tasks over time - be that filling out forms or collecting points with purchases or even simply purchasing a number of items over time - framing that task as one that is already underway – for example using some kind of indicator that progress has been even made before the customer has to start - improves the chances of a customer completing the thing we want them to do.

As an example, earlier this week I visited a new coffee shop, not my usual one, and along with my coffee I received a card that gives me a free coffee once I fill the card with stamps.

So what? Pretty standard coffee shop practice, I hear you say.

But, my card requires 10 stamps for a free coffee, and the cheeky barista gave me a jump start with two free stamps.

Now transpose this onto an imaginary situation.

Suppose for a second that I had visited said coffee shop with a friend and that friend had also received a 'loyalty' card. Except my friend doesn’t get any free stamps, but their card only requires 8 stamps instead of 10.

So both of us are looking at the same number of future transactions (8) to get a free coffee.

But, assuming we don't go for coffee together every time, who do you think is more likely to come back enough times to fill up their card?

As it goes, it’s 'me'.

I have the card that needs 10 stamps in total, but now I've already received enough stamps to get 20% of the way towards the free coffee.

And, as it also goes I have returned to the unfamiliar coffee shop this week for more stamps, and broken my usual habit without thinking about it.

In the case of data analysis it's never a good idea to infer the general from the particular.

However in human behaviour, particularly around common mundane activities, observing ones own behaviour can often be a good indicator of what others are likely to do.

So armed with that observation I subsequently found out that this situation is called ‘the endowed progress effect.’

I also uncovered that in experiments conducted around similar habitual behaviours 34% of people who got a 10-stamp card with 2 free stamps in advance went back enough times to complete the cards, compared to 19% of customers who started with the empty card requiring only 8 stamps. This is despite the fact that both sets of customers only needed 8 stamps for a free thing.

And what’s more, those given the two free stamps also tried to fill up their card faster.

By giving people just a feeling of instant progress towards a reward, they’re more likely to take the required steps to reach that reward.

By giving the two free stamps the barista has framed the activity (i.e., buying enough coffee to get a free one) as one that is already in progress.

With any new behaviour, the hardest part it getting started in the first place. so by fuzzying up the commencement takes advantage of our naturally inclination to complete tasks that we feel we are already into.

this was pop

It wasn't that long ago when the subject matter and context in pop songs had somewhat more substance and sense of enquiry.

Yes kids, this was pop, believe it or not.

'If you ever get close to a human and human behaviour be ready to get confused...

..there's definitely no logic to human behaviour but yet so irresistible...

...but, oh, to get involved in the exchange of human emotions is ever so satisfying'

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

making it easy to donate #asku

What if you could help charities raise funds without having to put your hand in your pocket for cash?

What if it was enough for you to just put your hand in your pocket for your phone?

A new app called AskU allows this very thing to happen.

The idea being that whilst hanging about waiting for trains or any other inbetween times you can fire up AskU, answer some market research type questions, and the organisation posing said questions pays AskU, and the participating charities, for your answers.

This potentially solves a big behavioural problem for the charities involved.

Many people like the idea of supporting charity but when it comes to the crunch, handing over the dosh is a huge barrier.

There are many theories around things like reward substitution that have been proven be effective.

However, AskU simply removes the barrier completely and outsources your donation using someone else's (or some company's) dollar instead.

AskU - Harness your idle time to change the world! from AskU on Vimeo.

AskU, was developed by PwC in collaboration with The Australian Charities Fund (ACF).

ACF has nominated four charities to benefit from AskU in the first phase of its growth;
Opportunity International Australia, The Smith Family, Mission Australia and Redkite.

Free on iTunes and Google Play, the app is available for all iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.

Some friends of this blog are involved so we'd appreciate it if you would give it a whirl.

Check it out

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

the dreams we have as children, fade away

Childhood, as a frame, will inspire and motivate because it allows us to reflect back to a time before things became so complicated.

As we get older we get conflicted. Life gets messier and nothing is as simple any more.

Like Noel Gallagher occasionally nailed it...

'When I was young, I thought I had my own key,
I knew exactly what I wanted to be,
Now I'm sure,
You've boarded up every door.'

So it may be the case that when 'memories' of childhood are evoked then our own moral standards can be temporarily rebooted, and therefore we might just act in a more prosocial manner with some of our choices.

Memory, of course, is not the correct description.
While we have a handle on the general gist of what happened the actual details are long gone and so therefore any memory of childhood is largely an idealised fiction.
This is as true when we try and recount what happened yesterday as much is something from many years ago.

You may be surprised, as I was, to know that our memories are actually reconstructed afresh every time we bring them to mind. It's nerve pathways that firing anew each time, and your mind will also fill in any gaps with made up stuff that seems plausible, but these will seem as real the original event.

It's basic human need to make sense out of events, so we create these memory illusions to give a sense of coherence or narrative. But they are illusions none the less.

Anyway, back to the topic, the latest Chipotle trailer seems to be a classic example of pulling those childhood moral compass strings, and to good effect.

Monday, September 09, 2013

uncertain smile

Mirror neurons – the things that trigger responses in our brains whether we are doing an activity ourselves or whether we simply see someone else doing the same thing. They are a fundamental mechanism for learning (socially), and leveraging these triggers is the oldest trick in the advertising book.

So, when Australian ad watchdog the Outdoor Media Association, ruled that the ad on the left featuring expressionless models was inappropriate; and therefore told skincare brand Ella Bache to relace the offending pic with smiling models instead, they have actually done Ella Bache an unlikely favour.

OMA decreed that the 'serious facial expressions increased the sexual overtones of the image', and therefore the image should change.

According to Mumbrella this morning, Ella Bache's creative director Faie Davis was not happy:

'This bizarre decision is the epitome of political correctness, indicating that as a society we are becoming very fearful of putting a foot wrong, with the result that stymies creative thinking. In the past we have produced ads approved with nude men and women hugging and kissing, yet now we have an industry self-regulator now making judgments on the different sexual mores of a smile or serious expression of models.'

Davis should be advised that the OMA ruling will probably make the ad more effective.

Replacing the neutral faces with smiling faces is a smarter strategy.

Now women looking at the ad will know how they are supposed to feel when using the product.

Not neutral. Happy.

It's no accident that every coca-cola ad in history has featured happy people consuming the product.

This is how you are supposed to feel.

Monkey see, monkey do.

Although full marks to Davis for the cute (or perhaps unintended) use of the old subjective validation trick (aka the Forer Effect) on the line 'as individual as you are'.

twymyn llinell wen

This is a terrific example of a likely system one decision, endorsed by system two without checking, and then compounded by a further ignorance-of-crowds endorsement.

(Recap: System one being the set of cognitive processes that operate automatically without the need for 'thinking' and by which the majority of our behaviours are driven, while system two drives the slower more effortful critical thinking process)

To explain this process, I've often used the bat and ball example that came to fame as part of Daniel Kahneman's Nobel prize acceptance speech.

It's probably too well known now to be of further use, but just in case...

Consider a bat and a ball for sale in your big box retail store of choice.

The bat and ball together costs one dollar and ten cents.
If the bat costs a dollar more than the ball, then how much would the ball cost?

I once used this when giving a talk to 150 analytics professionals and around 80% of the audience raised their hand for ten cents.

Of course, they were wrong.

Ten cents sounds pretty plausible, this is system one throwing up an answer, then the answer is endorsed by system two and on you go with your day.

If you still haven't worked it out yet the correct answer is five cents.

Similarly, someone in the Swansea City council roads department let their system two endorse a system one decision routinely without checking.

All official road signs in Wales are displayed in English and Welsh language, so the roads department e-mailed its in-house translation service for the Welsh version of:

'No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only'.

All simple enough so far, except the sign was manufactured and placed with the translation below that reads:

'I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated'

While this is funny enough, and can be attributed to a simple individual mistake in the first instance, one has to wonder how many sets of Swansea council eyeballs this passed by and no-one saw or questioned the error.

Most of the time the common tendency to adopt the opinions and follow the behaviors of the majority around us is perfectly sensible, it feels safer and helps to avoid conflict.

Except when it doesn't.

And most of the time, the automatic decision making of the highly skilled system one, endorsed by system two, serves us pretty well.

Except when it doesn't.

Filed also under change blindness, authority bias and 'no nurse, I said remove his spectacles!'

Thursday, August 29, 2013

another brick in the wall

We’ve all seen reports and studies that supposedly point to this idea that advertising is becoming increasingly irrelevant to how people buy products and services.

I was recently shown a statistic from a social media enthusiast – presented to me with an ‘aha’ intone – from a report which declared that 93% of a group of mums surveyed said that advertising had no effect whatsoever on their choice of breakfast cereal.

Yeah, right.

This was a classic case of the introspection illusion in full effect.

While we may like to think we understand our motivations, our likes and dislikes, why we are the way we are and how we make our decisions unfortunately this is not how we operate in reality.

Really, we act first then construct –post-rationalise - some sort of believable explanation for our actions afterwards.

Just ask anyone whether they believe themselves to be a better-than-average driver.

And while the 93% of mums surveyed claimed that advertising had no effect on them as individuals, if they had been asked wether the advertising was likely to have affected others then the answer would have likely been yes.

This is because the introspection illusion has another effect - we have a tendency to believe that others will more readily conform to - eg - advertising influence than we do.

We view ourselves as independent thinkers but everyone else are sheep.

This is one of the reasons that good mass media advertising - that knows nothing particular about you as an individual - will often be more relevant than the highly ‘personalised’ and ‘targeted’ ads your are served on online, and while the individual may not consciously acknowledge this - we unconsciously register it's simple availability - and the advertising has had it’s effect.

We believe what comes most easily to mind in the context. Often without thinking.

And likewise, in focus groups and surveys, asking people about their own preferences or to articulate their reasons for a particular behaviour leads to false findings and failed campaigns.

However asking people what they believe others might do is a better indicator of the likely behaviour of the subjects.

Similarly with social influence. While subjects are quick to spot the impact of copying , except when that influence is on themselves.

In general it’s probably good practice to ignore reports or studies where the findings are based on people rationalizing their own thoughts or behaviours because they are an illusion. We are routinely pretty bad witnesses to our own behaviour, we fail to detect aspects of ourselves that most others can clearly see.

However ask us what we think other people might do will give better clues.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

the remarkable dispen pak (or how I learned to stop worrying and re-invent the wheel)

This is a guest post from Gil Fewster, Technology head at Sputnik and co-founder of Lab116 our Behaviour, Technology and Experience division.

The post originally appeared at

Whenever somebody trots out that tired cliché about not wanting to re-invent the wheel, I think about that marvel of understated yet brilliant design, the Dispen Pak.

The Dispen Pak is a refinement of  disposable single-serve sauce packets. You may not know the name, but I guarantee you've used them countless times.

They are those twin-chambered packets of sauce or marmalade that let you squeeze just the right amount of condiment over your meal of choice using (and here's the miracle) just one hand to crack open the seal and dispense that tasty goodness.

Just one hand? Hell, all it really takes is two fingers.

The thing is, people who talk about wheel re-invention are implicitly talking about redundancy; they're inferring it's a wasteful expenditure of thought and energy to make a thing that has already been made.

They do this to champion the new, to falsely align innovation with novelty. But what of refinement?

Improvement? Assessing something with a critical eye, identifying its limitations or problems, and then fixing them?  Genuine newness is a rare thing. Perhaps the only thing rarer is perfection; an object, tool or process which cannot be improved.

The old sauce packs with their single chamber and foil lids you tear off were fine, but Dispen Pak adds two of key improvements.

  1. Functional convenience
    You can use it one-handed while you hold your meat pie in the other.

  2. Precision
    Squeeze a little, get a few dribbles of sauce. Squeeze a lot, get a big blob.

These are not trivial enhancements, they are answers to specific problems. One-handed operation may seem unimportant until you consider the context, namely that these packets are often used by people eating takeaway food on the go.

The functional requirements for dispensing sauce at the dinner table are considerably altered when one hand is busy holding your pie of choice and you're walking along a crowded footpath.

The Dispen pak is a design enhancement which can only be arrived at by thinking, really deeply, about not just the object's main function but the context in which that function is used.

It is an answer to a question so subtle that most people never thought to ask it, and yet now that the answer is in front of our eyes it seems impossible to imagine we didn't always squeeze out our sauce that way.

Never be afraid to look around, see what sits right in front of you, and challenge yourself to make it better. And beware of people who tell you they don't want to re-invent the wheel.

Most likely, they just lack the critical vision the see  how much better our wheels could be.

now I wanna sniff some glue

The Crayola blue glue sticks are a splendid little piece of soft innovation that really solves a user problem.

The glue is blue when active but dries clear.


So, when constructing your collage or picture (as my son demonstrates in this in progress Jurassic Park expression) it's easy to see which areas have glue coverage, thus avoiding the inconvenience of unstuck elements after the fact.


Identify a real user problem.

Iterate the product so that it doesn't require a new behaviour but simply makes the existing behaviour easier and gets the user to where they need to be, better.

Friday, August 23, 2013

to hell with mediocrity (again)

What comes to mind on Nike's fantastic latest film 'Possibilities', from an advertising point of view, is that the message is as applicable to this industry as it is for sports.

Good enough isn't good enough.

Worth also noting being that sight, sound and motion afforded by film is still pretty much the unbeatable storytelling medium when coupled with fresh insight and extraordinary creativity.

To hell with mediocrity and the peddlers thereof, I say.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

like trousers, like brain

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistance.
Talent will not.
There is nothing more common then unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not.
Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not.
The world if full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Belated recognition that yesterday would have been Joe Strummer's 61st birthday.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

work or opportunity?

There is something that the ECD at one of my previous agencies used to say to me on occasion that I didn't fully appreciate at the time.

I understood but didn't 'get it' fully.

At the time I was working in a peculiar space, which I likened to being in-the-hole, like an attacking midfielder, or a deep lying striker.

Linking the play in between planning and creative departments, in the manner of an ad douche Eric Cantona or perhaps Pelé. (that's plenty - Editor)

In occupying that number 10 shirt I would looking for opportunities for the agency to impact other areas of the clients business other than the straight up advertising or promotional route.

The idea being that we could grow revenues from clients by nicking budgets that would have gone elsewhere. As a result we developed proposals for digital tools and utility, customer service initiatives, making things out of data and suchlike.

That’s the backstory.

The problem was that some of this output, while hugely useful and practical, was a tad on the un-sexy side.

By unsexy I mean stuff that wasn't going to be global advertising award contender material.

That's not to say that they weren't great ideas but their practical nature meant that just not those kind of ideas.

So the ECD would ask me 'this is good but what will this do for the agency?'.

This would irk me at the time as I was still a bit giddy on the whole social media branded utility blah kool-aid.

However I understand what he meant much better now.

Jump to earlier this morning in the car and I was listening to a old episode of the gapingvoid podcast, in which Hugh MacLeod and Jason Korman talked with Seth Godin.

I’ve read Seth’s blog for many years and just about all of the books, and he must have dropped the following nugget a number of times but for some reason I was most receptive to it this morning.

Akin to the old adage that 'when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change', one Seth comment reminded me of the difference between doing jobs and creating opportunity.

Seth alluded that when we look at things simply as work then the task is to make as much money as possible for doing the least amount of said work. When we look at things as an opportunity then it’s a different game.

‘What does this do for the agency?’ is not ad people vanity, it’s asking ‘what’s the opportunity to do something where the outcome is great for the client and also for us.’

As a case in point then look to this splendid behavioural and emotional activation for Dutch funeral insurance company Dela which scooped a Grand Prix at Cannes and propelled Dela into the top ten of most famous brands in the Netherlands.


Funeral insurance is one of those categories which might easily have been filed into ‘work’ however some people at Ogilvy viewed this as an opportunity, et voilà (or en hier to be correct).

Monday, August 19, 2013

everybody's doin' the dog

Not sure how this little behavioural nugget slipped through the net, but even though we are over a year late in acknowledgement it's worth a repost here.

So how do you encourage dog owners to do the right thing and dispose of their dogs' poo in the correct manner?

Traditionally, of course, dog owners falling foul would be fined.

Another approach is rewarding the positive behaviour instead.

Use the poo to power free wi-fi in the park so that everyone benefits.

The more poo in the designated receptacles, the more free wi-fi for park-goers.

But this wasn't a civic clean-up initiative (though it would have still been great) but a promotional campaign for Mexican Internet provider Terra.

Bringing people together, giving them something to do, to create their own value.

Thanks to Mark @ SputnikLabs for the prompt.

golly baby, I'm a lucky......

In simple terms there are two kinds of happiness. The moment-to-moment happiness of what Daniel Kahneman calls the 'experiencing' self. This is how you feel as the real-time self goes about its daily business.

The second kind of happiness is the one that we feel when we look back on life in general or on specific events. This is the 'remembering' self. This is a reflective process.

I'm generally of the point of view that regardless of product or category when we create advertising or brand experience then evoking some kind of strong feeling of happiness in the moment and leaving the viewer/participant with a strong happy memory is just about always going to be effective.

Positive associations of happiness which can be triggered by subsequent exposure with the brand.

In fact, what the Captain says in the video is true.

They should use this in ad school as the definitive 'how to do advertising' text.

'If you don't talk happy, and you never have a dream
Then you'll never have a dream come true'

Plus Cap get's bonus points for getting away with singing 'golly baby I'm a lucky c*nt' on Top of the Pops.

Friday, August 16, 2013

punk floyd

'If punk is a style, then punk is absolutely and irrevocably dead and buried. If, on the other hand, punk is an ethos, then our perception of this moment in history changes'.

So says Brent Ables in his mostly splendid article 'A House Full of Pain: How the Greatest Punk Album of the '70s Was Made by Pink Floyd' in cokemachineglow.

Ables goes on to argue (citing Johnny Rotten's famous I HATE Pink Floyd t-shirt):

'The punks didn’t look deeply enough. If they had, they would have realized that for the space of an album, Pink Floyd had already done everything they wanted to do and had done it better. Animals was already the greatest punk rock album of the decade, and punk hadn’t even been christened yet.'

Animals is, by some distance, the most venomous, bleak, cutting, ruthless lyrical document released by a major rock band in the 1970s... ...Waters pens some of the most memorable lines of his career, over the album’s three core tracks, Waters unleashes a furious condemnation of you, your family, your boss, your lover, and the depths of your corrupted festering soul. No one is safe....and the point is that you and everyone you know is totally fucked. What is this but the punk ethos in its purest form?

Ables has an entertaining and decent argument but my sense is that he misses the point a bit.

The point of the Sex Pistols and punk as a thing was to inspire a thousand other bands and create a movement of which the Pistols could be the leaders. Of course it was all about ethos.

Because there had to be more than just the Pistols.

Because people' don't see just the leaders, they mostly see the the followers, new recruits follow the followers.

Which takes us back to this story from Bernie Rhodes (I think it was him).

Rhodes managed The Clash back in the day and was in cahoots with Malcolm Mclaren (Sex Pistols) and Jake Riviera (the unsung 3rd man of the original emergent UK punk scene, and erstwhile manager of The Damned).

Between the three of them they realised that to create a movement no one band could not do it on their own, but 3 bands...

Do the arithmetic.

3 bands (Pistols, Clash, Damned) each with four members.
Say each band member has five 'friends', thats 60 people minimum.

So a triple header gig in a small strip joint in Soho has an instant crowd of 60 or so likeminded bods, to any waif or stray thats wandered in off the street it immediately looks like 'something' is happening.

As more people decide to join in it's no longer a risk, if they 'get it' no reason not to join in now, and the codes, language, style is all there for them.

It's very easy to participate.

So while the Floyd may have had the message, they didn't have the movement.

There were not a thousand bands formed overnight and instantly performin 27minute prog rock epics in the garage to a dozen friends.

There was a huge audience but it was not participatory.

It's well documented that many older original punks were former hippies.

Tony Parsons famously noted (re: the Pistols Jubilee boat party):

'There were a lot of hippies on the boat, all these sweet people from Virgin. There wasn't actually a huge divide between hippies and punks back then that we made out there was. We shared so much that you can only really discern with hindsight. Both groups were determined that they were going to change the way society was ordered, but both wanted to do it while getting absolutely shitfaced'

Pink Floyd's achievement with Animals was to make a prog rock album straight out of the previous counterculture that was (in part) in tune with the current counterculture without cutting their hair or taking in their flares.

Ables takes a final swipe at J Rotten '...thirty-five years later, while Roger Waters goes before the United Nations in defense of Palestinian rights, Johnny Rotten is growing fat from VH1 reality shows and butter commercials'

This is essentially the Bill Hicks point of view that 'any performer who ever sells a product on television is for now and all eternity removed from the artistic world'.

The lesser quoted other part of that Hicks quote is that if the IRS or some other body is on the back of the performer for money then it's passable.

Rotten has gone on record as saying that the butter ad and 'I'm a Celebrity...' fees essentially paid for the Public Image Ltd tour of 2009 so that goes down a pass in my book.

Thanks to Mr Dodds for finding the original Floyd article.