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.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

police and thieves in the street. oh yeah!

Inexpensive and disproportionately effective behavioural and mere-exposure type nudgey things of the week are; firstly, the cardboard cutout of MBTA officer David Silen that has helped cut bike thefts by 67 percent in Boston’s Alewife subway station.

While the MBTA also added a couple of video cameras and a new lock on the bike cage, the point is deterent not catching bike thieves.

For the potential bike thief do-I-don't-I is a split-second decision, so the merest hint a of cop is enough for the opportunist to look elsewhere for something to nick.

Similarly from India, Bangalore police commissioner MA Saleem has introduced cardboard police as a way of reducing speeding and preventing accidents.

"Drivers in Indian cities violate traffic rules when there are no cops around - they jump traffic lights and go the wrong way on one-way streets," Saleem said, "These cut-out cops are very effective and they can be on the job seven days a week."

Déformation professionnelle

A phrase the French came up with that describes the tendency to look at problems just from the point of view of one's own profession or area of expertise rather than looking for the real problem.

Déformation professionnelle.

Common example.

The answer is 'social media', now what's the problem?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

two rules to live by

According to Andrew Potter, author of The Authenticity Hoax, it's simply the quest for authenticity itself, that causes the world to seem so unreal and phoney and therefore the quest is ultimately futile.

People can’t help themselves from competing for status (if the modern age was about the search for status via 'cool' the current paradigm is the search for status via 'authenticity'- organic, local, artisan etc) so when one removes oneself from the competition for status in the mainstream one just joins the competition for status in the counterculture.

Having said that, we haven't had a Malcolm quote in here for a while - and my sense is that if there can possibly be a difference between the authentic authentic and the commoditised authentic then it can be found here.

'There are two rules I've always tried to live by: turn left, if you're supposed to turn right; go through any door that you're not supposed to enter. It's the only way to fight your way through to any kind of authentic feeling in a world beset by fakery.'

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


On my to-read list is The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berklun.

He's summarised the ten key thoughts in the book in this post on his blog.

Myth number nine caught my eye.

One of the things humans are pretty good at is jumping to conclusions based on little information.

Most of the time this instinct serves us well, however in communications planning we should be advised to check this urge.

9. The myth than problems are less interesting than solutions.

Eintsein said “If I had 20 days to solve a problem I would take 19 to define it.”

There are many creative ways to think about a problem, and different ways to look at a situation.

The impatient run at full speed into solving things, speeding right past the insights needed to find a great solution.

If you listen to how successful creators talk about their daily work, they spend more time thinking about the problem than epiphany obsessed media would have us believe.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

emergent strategy

This nugget from a long lost post by Guy Kawasaki resonated from down a rabbit hole into 2006.

He his offering some advice for entrepreneurial types in the development of business plans however it's appropriate for the conundrum facing communications planning.

While we would love to present agile strategies as default this is often hard for clients to buy into.

Test and learn talk makes us feel fuzzy in the agency but the average CMO doesn't entertain fail-fast.

Perhaps there's a middle way, as GK describes.

'Write deliberate, act emergent.

When you write your plan, you act as if you know exactly what you're going to do.

You are deliberate.

You're probably wrong, but you take your best shot.

However, writing deliberate doesn't mean that you adhere to the plan in the face of new information and new opportunities.

As you execute the plan, you act emergent - that is, you are flexible and fast moving: changing as you learn more and more about the market.

The plan, after all, should not take on a life of its own.'

never mess with the distinctive brand assets

Apparently this funny and insightful ad for Marmite has caused something of a minor kerfuffle in the UK as some feel that it's humour trivialises the work of animal protection services.

As a result more people will have noticed it so it's all gravy for Marmite.

The real scandal however, as Doddsy correctly points out, is the gratuitous and completely unnecessary display of the Unilever logo on the end frame instead of the Marmite logo.

Rule number one is never mess with the distinctive brand assets, and certainly never replace them in the key moments (remember the peak-end rule) with meaningless ones.

Schoolboy error.

they thought he was off his trolley

The story of the invention of the common or garden shopping trolley can probably be archived as an early commercial behavioural nudge.

One evening, in 1936, Sylvan Goldman, owner of the Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain in Oklahoma City sat in his office crunching the numbers on the days sales and pondered on how he might shift more product.

Legend has it that Piggly wiggly were early pioneers of special offers, twofers and suchlike but none of these on the shelf activations were significantly moving any needles.

As Goldman shuffled his papers and prepared to head for home he had an epiphany as he placed one of his standard hand-held shopping baskets onto a wooden folding chair to clear his way out of the cash office.

With a swift application of gaffer tape the basket was melded to the chair and then a set of wheels screwed to the legs and the idea was born.

The next day Goldman shoed the makeshift trolley to one of his staff, a former mechanic, and the pair set about prototyping a metal framed cart with a two-basket capacity.

Their simple insight became manifest. Simply increasing the size of the the shopper basket would be enough of a nudge to make customers buy more groceries.

The first behavioural conundrum solved, the inventors were then surprised to face a second conundrum.

The device did not catch on immediately, prevailing social norms meant that men found the carts to be effeminate, and women apparently made an association with a baby buggy and resisted.

Not to be deterred Goldman’s next master stroke involved employing a number of male and female stooges to push his new carts around his store to demonstrate their usefulness and manufacture the social proof required to remove the barriers to adoption from his status quo biased customers.

The rest, as they say, is history and after patenting the cart in 1938 Goldman became a multimillionaire.