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Robin highlights that this month’s IAB Creative Showcase results contain ‘not a single banner in sight’. That’s slightly misleading as both the winner, Lean Mean’s ‘Non-stop Fernando’ and the first runner up, Dare’s ‘Vaio online script project’ both use traditional ad formats at promotion.

It’s the second runner up however, glue’s ‘Potato parade’ which I just don’t understand.

The original BBC Micro.

This happens to be the same week that the inventor of the BBC Micro, Steve Furber, received a CBE. Do you remember the excitement when that arrived in 1981?

I can vividly recall the huge hopes we all had, and then the slight disappointment when the beige box couldn’t do what the computers on the telly did – expectations had been set a little high by AirWolf and KnightRider. However we struggled on and, again, I can remember vividly the moment that wrote my first – admittedly a bit pathetic – computer program. It was BBC BASIC and what it did was ask you what your name was “ENTER YOUR NAME: (flashing cursor)”. When you did this it would spit back “HELLO TOM” (or whatever you put in, it wasn’t that shit).

So back to the potato campaign. It says, “TELL ME THE NAME OF YOUR FRIEND: (cool animation)”, and then – rather than just saying “HELLO <your friend’s name>” – it creates an animation of dancing potatoes, which I’m then supposed to email on to my friend, colleague, mother, ‘sweetheart’ etc with their name in the animation.

Why?

It might be really nicely designed, it might have the voices and animation of British favourites Aardman. But why on earth would I do it?, and what on earth has it got to do with potatoes?

Perhaps I’m missing a segment of my brain and this makes sense to everyone else, but as far as I can see, glue could have used the same campaign for any product. It doesn’t say anything to me about the manufacturer (McCain), the product itself (potatoes), it doesn’t make me want to buy or eat the product or anything like it. What is it for? And why is it winning awards? Unless it’s winning for its use of the craft, I just don’t get it.

And how did people find it in the first place? Assuming it didn’t circle the globe twice in a fit of viral-ness. The entry from glue says:

‘The Potato Parade has only be live a week or so but has been sent on by 125,000 people in 124 different countries. Including most of our mums.

Hmmm, really?, ranking the 194 countries of the world in order of economic size that would mean the campaign had reached Chad…

What’s the betting a couple of potato-shaped banners have been deployed too!?

Enquiring minds

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The recent release of Stephen King’s collected writings is brilliant and – this is lost on no-one – extremely prescient.

Many of the issues that face current communicators appear to have been tackled, in outline at least, by King 30 or more years ago. We may only be able to guess what his detailed thoughts would be on the issues which face marketers (advertisers in King’s terminology) today. Although, we can bet that they’d be clear, insightful and closely argued.

In the collection, each of King’s original papers is introduced by a modern day advertising thinker. In the most part, these introductions are excellent, refining and highlighting the best of the original pieces and explaining them in today’s terms; picking out nuance and explaining terms which may since have changed usage or meaning. Rory Sutherland’s introduction to ‘Advertising: Art or Science’ is particularly funny (including the observation that ‘[…] All creative people must submit their thinking for appraisal by more rational people […] but […] this does not apply the other way around’, and Jeremy Bullmore’s introduction to the entire book is – as usual –  captivating and insightful.

Somewhat ironically, however, it is two of King’s successors at JWT who provide the only unsatisfactory introductions. In critiquing ‘The Advertising Idea’, Rosemarie Ryan and Ty Montague (President and Creative Director of JWT New York), completely misappropriate the concept of stimulus and response to mean… interactive media and then tread a somewhat clumsy course back to the primacy of the ‘The Big Idea’. Talking about the same piece Tom Doctoroff (JWT’s North East Asia Director) does an even more cack-handed job of assuming what it is he’s trying to prove. Ending up once again with the concept that Big Ideas (or Engagement Ideas) must rule the day.

Doctroff writes:

[…] ‘Those of us who master the art of idea management will thrive. That’s why JWT Asia, we have introduced “Engagement Planning”, a conceptual framwork that builds on Stephen King’s traditional thinking while bringing it into alignment with the new reality of blogs and podcasts.’ … ‘Importantly, unless engagement ideas are properly articulated, we cannot extend them across relevant media, both traditional (television, radio, print, promotion, direct) and new (websites, micro-sites, blogs, mobiles etc). […] Engagement ideas also tame the potential of viral marketing by enabling marketers to mould the brand experience on their own terms’.

What nonsense. As Martin Sorrell once said: ‘If you’re hammer, everything starts to look a bit like a nail’. And so for big creative advertising agencies, ‘big ideas’ become the solution, no matter what the problem was. But in the quote above, surely this is precisely why ad agencies have sucked so badly at communicating in non-advertising ways. Meanwhile talented individuals like Hugh Macleod out-strategise major agencies by actually thinking about how to market to networks rather than treating these new forms of communication as just more bought media. I think we can safely assume King would have looked at blogs, youtube, whatever; would have tried to understand how they work and how they can be used commercially to influence consumer perception of brand (across the who sphere of those perceptions), rather than just extend ‘traditional’ thinking where it wasn’t wanted.

Doctoroff attempts to explain how they put this into practice, ‘To underline the need for the consumer’s involvement, we have relabelled the “advertising idea” an “engagement idea,” a concept that is “bigger” than any single execution but still “creative”.’ (his speech marks).

Amongst these ‘bigger’ ideas Doctoroff includes a line for Siemens mobile phones: ‘Intelligent phone for intelligent people’, and for sports shoes in China, ‘Forge yourself’ (are those even ideas?). An attempt, if I’ve ever seen one, to systematise the solution to any advertising problem, and once which leverages only ad agencies’ best asset: creative thinking.

Of course, this is not what Stephen King wrote at all. He talks about the role of ideas in amplifying the intensity of consumer response as part of a carefully planned advertising campaign. The first part of that process is identifying what the problem to be solved is.

King himself says: “The call for original advertising ideas is not just because we want to give creative people full and interesting lives. There are two sound commercial reasons for it… Intense response and Sophisticated consumers.”

‘Intense response’ means ‘involving the consumer’ (i.e. activating the consumers brain, not just pouring ideas into it). ‘Sophisticated consumers’ is talking about about the other media the audience is exposed to and their level of sophistication in deconstructing advertising and brands.

King is always analytical – not jumping from one example to the next but asking step by step – how does this advertising work, how can it be used commercially?

Even in the 70s and 80s, King looks not-at-all for a single one-size-fits all solution to advertisers’ problems, instead encouraging planners (the job function he invented) to be the guardians of effectiveness by any means, able to mine all available data, construct their own experiments and research, and set detail measurable targets for any work that is carried out.

Instead, if we listen to the wrong end of the advertising market, its all about these mystical big ideas and all we need to do (however hard it is) is come up with one. Surely this is exactly the sort of thinking that King would have hated.

And it’s exactly the sort of simple way of thinking which I think Russell Davies identifies here. It was always about communication before, so it’s still all about communication. And that’s how we end up with all these microsites – for example – that are ‘only seen in boardrooms and award ceremonies’.

That’s why we need ‘enquiring minds’ (alongside commercial minds and creative minds of the traditional advertising partnership). There is no cookie-cutter solution to communications problems, as much as agency managers, new business people, or creative directors would like their to be, whether inside the world of advertising or not.

(As a taster I’ve posted some of the best quotes here).

Your ad here

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Some times these ‘new media’ don’t seem quite so far from those old ones do they?

An interesting news feed item turned up this morning in my Facebook news feed (below). I wonder quite how targeted this advertising is:

advertise here

Also it would seem to suggest that there’s a bit of spare inventory at the moment.

Sense and sociability

 How hyped can you go (iphone launch pic)?

There’s an absolutely cracking article on Mashable about the various social network’s monetisation strategy. The author points out that it takes an awful lot of personalisation to make up for hitting people with messages at the wrong time (and that entertainment doesn’t translate to word of mouth).

It’s a very reasonable criticism, and it’s always worth re-iterating why adWords is so powerful and lucrative in the face of alleged competitors.

However, I think all of this does potentially mask what is actually going on here by looking it at within the framework of disruptive advertising media.

In any market you need to have a buyer as  well as a seller. That’s why what facebook is selling is more or less ‘advertising shaped’ opportunities; so advertisers – set in their ways as they are – stand a chance of being able to buy them.

But I think there’s something much more interesting happening too. and it’s not just what happened when loads of brands stuck up crass MySpace pages. There is an opportunity for brands to define the role they play as social objects. Clearly, that should be alot more sophisticated than the lamentable early attempts I mentioned the other day.

From there it will simply not be about how loud the brand shouts, but it’s ability to get at least some of its customers really hyped up.

Does it really ad up?

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Another fantastically cynical piece from Andrew Orlowski: I’m a walking billboard… bitch in response to the somewhat hyperbolic claims of Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg that he’s reinvented advertising for the next 100 years.

In fact, there are three things that Facebook is doing:

  1. Letting brands have pages. Fair enough, we’ve seen this work well enough on MySpace and at least it’s all above board and we’re not going go get loads of made-up identities (‘flogs’). The reasoning is that users can then tell the world about their favorite bands, brands and celebrities. Nice idea but not quite sure how the marketers of engine oil and socks join that party. And let us not forget the sad fate of Burberry. Do brands really want everyone’s endorsement!? Plus, as Orlwoski points out, a lot of the early conversations are between a brands’ most enthusiastic (read: mentally ill or paid) customers and the brands’ corporate lawyers. For example, take a look at Coca-cola’s 500 fans(!!) who’ve signed up for this nonsense (graphic at top of post). 90% fake, 100% uninteresting. I’ll bet you my rotten teeth that that page doesn’t last till Christmas.
  2. Social ads: this is targeting. And the scenario is simple. Let’s say I want to sell 10,000 copies of Nik Kershaw’s Greatest Hits. Now I can target my ads to just those people who say they like Nik Kershaw, or those who’ve joined a related group, or those that grew up in the 80s, or those who wet the bed etc.
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    Apparently, ‘Facebook Social Ads allow your businesses to become part of people’s daily conversations’, perhaps as in ‘I wish Blockbuster would stop putting these f*cking ads in my Facebook newsfeed’.
  3. A new thing called ‘beacons’. This is interesting stuff and something a lot of us have been talking about for a while. It allows actions outside of FB get into the news feed there. For Facebook it’s more content, for its users, it’s even more news (and intermittent variable reinforcement!), for brands it’s a chance to make non-social actions social. ‘Tom has just bought a dodgy Nik Kershaw album’, ‘John has just signed up to Amazon prime’. It’ll be interesting to see how this one gets used.

At the moment, predicting the next three years of advertising seems hard enough. Certainly an element of it will be like this. But not all of it will be. A lot of these sorts of initiatives seem to overlook the fundamental changes brand owners must learn to live with, rather than just how they get their message out.

Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and have a conversation with  my favorite snack foods on Facebook.

Facebook goes anti-social

Mark Zuckerberg

Today’s Facebook porn revolves around a story that the social network is set to launch a new adserving platform (called ‘SocialAds’) which will take the data from inside their walled garden and use it to serve more relevant ads to people in other locations. Valleywag has it here. Venture beat loose complete control of their horses here, going on to claim this could make the (let us not forget) website, worth $100bn (that’s the GDP of New Zealand).

Venture beat themselves exposes some of the problem with the argument with their stunning example of targeting only those 20-25 year olds who express an interest in beer with a beer ad.

Well, let’s for a second forget that all 20-25 year olds are interested in beer (give or take) and ask a subtly different question: are you likely to sell your brand of beer to someone who’s already such an big ‘fan’ that he talks about beer on his Facebook profile. The reality of how people shop for things is of course, considerably more complicated. When in a bar in a group – for example – most people buy what the first person to order ordered. Second biggest driver is… what the barman recommends. Some banner I ignored on CNN six days ago is not likely to really have an impact.

Any other obvious flaws in the argument that Facebook can take over the world using just the knowledge that I’m a man and watch too much West Wing? Well, if that data is so valuable, why are they getting 10 cents per 100 impressions currently on their own site? Surely it would make AdSense to roll it out their first.

The upside? Perhaps when Mr Zuckerberg is the richest man in the world, he’ll be able to afford some proper shoes.

Planning planning

(or ‘towards a complete redefinition on the role of the brand strategist’)

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There’s a terrible joke or riddle I still remember from school: ‘What was the longest river in the world before the Nile was discovered?’. The answer, of course, is ‘the Nile’.

The launch of the landmark Stephen King retrospective on planning poses an similar question. What was King’s job (and Pollitt’s for that matter) before they invented planning. Presumably job titles like ‘head of planning’ were, at that point, unavailable.

The answer is different for the two men. King worked in JWT’s marketing department (which appeared to involve research and the setting of strategy – so broadly the same, although presumably very differently conducted), Pollitt was an account man who’d been put in charge of research.

And a bit like ‘Hitchhikers’ guide to the galaxy’ and the secret of life, the universe and everything, ever since their job was invented, planners have been  trying to work out what it means.

King, apparently lamented planning’s obsession with constantly trying to redefine its raison d’etre (as Jeremy Bullmore is supposed to have joked, it is a major irony that a profession that spends so much time looking for insight, still can’t explain itself), his own view seemed merely to be that planing was bringing science to the art of communication and persuasion. Famously he said the role spanned ‘grand strategist’ to ‘ad tweaker’.

So what’s the new planning? How do we start defining the role, the profession of the marketer / communicator / staff member who can drive business value through product and communication strategy nowadays.

Of course, if you speak to a planner, they’ll tell you that planning is the new planning. Indeed many of the leading lights of the new discussion (Russell Davies, Richard Huntingdon) and the most interesting and exciting thinking have come from this area. But that’s bound to happen, underlying truths about communication are indeed timeless, and the biggest and most insightful brains are the ones most likely to understand the changing face of the market (they’re the ones faced with the demise of the old paradigms)

But is ‘old planning’ the same as ‘new planning’? Hardly. We all see far too much ‘old’ thinking and approach being forced into the new discipline.

Perhaps marketers will lead the charge. Well again, there clearly are some marketers (like Godin) gearing up, but it’s certainly not most of them. What about designers? What about UEs? What about ‘Persuasion Architects’? Hell, what about cartoonists? That seems an equally rich vein at the moment.

So what are the axioms of this new group?

We take as our starting point that the adversarial unilateral relationship between brands and consumers is over. We understand that great, interesting products will succeed. The acknowledge that consumer insight must inform the product itself and not just it’s messaging or communications. We understand that the consumer will decide how they value goods and services.

Iain Tait’s somewhat tongue in cheek ‘why digital is better than advertising‘ speech at PSFK contained this gem (apologies for the transcription):

[in the traditional agencies, you find] structures that have been put in place  […] to make well-understood units of advertising, that’s why you have planners, creatives and TV producers. It’s not the same structures you need for technical and cultural innovation.

But like the pioneers that brought science to advertising through planning, we must look at how we do that more broadly in a world where we no longer ‘game’ communications; where we return to designing brands that matter in its deepest sense. It will have to be someone who understands people – from meeting them in all contexts, through observing them, through understanding the latest drivers in society and culture; someone who understands the tonnes of research we can now gather constantly; someone who understands user-experience across multiple media; who understand the truths of communication and persuasion, and the limits of a huge number of media.

But let’s not try and pretend that there is one group ready to simply take the crown. There is not.

The new new

Interesting to find out (although I always knew deep down) that black is the new black (according to Jon Leach).

Several people also seem to be pointing out that old is the new new in advertising – both in terms of the before and after of mass media which Amelia and Steve (and Seth Godin) have been talking about, and tonight a fantastic set of speeches and discussions around the Account Planning Group’s book launch of the collected articles of Stephen King (the inventor of planning, who died in 2006).

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All of the speakers kept coming back to the observation that many of King’s declarations from as far back as the 60s or 70s have a frightening similarity to the sorts of the things we are saying today, even down to the language including phrases such as ‘the changing nature of consumer attention means we must examine their relationship with the brand’. Indeed the book itself is subtitled ‘the timeless works of Stephen King’.

One thing really stuck in my mind. One of the panelists at the discussion at the end of the evening said that in the paper she was critiquing for the book (each paper has a summary by a modern day practitioner), Stephen King talks about the appropriateness of the title ‘account planner’.

It turns out the term was coined in a meeting on the basis that it was a cross between ‘account handler’ and ‘media planner’. King, apparently preferred the term ‘brand planner’ and had even suggested ‘brand designer’ as an alternative. Now there’s something that couldn’t be more relevant today.

(Sample of King’s work before the book comes out later this year).

Inflection point

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George Parker’s well aimed rant at weak minded advertising for weak beer, included a very interesting idea. While beer advertisers have reduced their media spend on traditional media by almost a quarter, overall market sales have gone up.

What do we learn from that? That the digital media advertising that’s taking-over the budgets is really driving sales? Of course not. It’s easy to forget that advertising isn’t really needed to prop up the segment itself; you don’t need to watch a load of tv spots to think ‘oh I fancy a beer’ or ‘I think I’ll continue to buy detergent’. 

Big budget bought media is all about driving market share for individual brands, and yes we will still soon this stop working. When the big spend (in Seth Godin’s terms in the TV-industrial complex) starts costing more than it brings in, then we really will see an inflection point in the decline of bought media.

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(Fantastic cartoons, as usual, courtesy of Gaping Void).