Just in time

 Starting the day, the agile way

I’ve been thinking about this topic – how the principles of lean manufacturing could teach us something interesting about marketing – for ages, but getting nowhere with writing about it.

Little things keep reminding me I need to get on with it. Like Amelia’s discussion about getting the most passionate customers involved in the marketing of the O2 Cocoon, George Parker’s scathing rant about Ford’s decision to allow its customers to pick more colours for their cars. And the latest today (buried amongst a huge volume of excellent posts all arriving at once) from  Russell Davies’ very interesting campaign piece on taking influences from outside the advertising echo chamber – and in particular from Agile, lean’s equivalent in software engineering – to actually find new ways to think about things.

In The Machine that Changed the World – the book which originally brought some of the secrets of the Toyota Production System (TPS) to the wider world, the authors discuss sales and marketing in the US and Japanese markets from a very academic stand point, as well as starting to extrapolate out what a ‘lean’ marketing system might look like in detail. That vision, written in the late 80s, is unbelievably similar to many of the ideas that are only now being adopted in response to the dwindling effect of purchased attention – or as Seth Godin has it, the death of the TV-industrial complex.

Of course, a lot of this comes back, actually, to product development, and building the right thing in the first place.

The number one manta of the lean movement is well known: ‘reduce waste’, the number two mantra is to fix problems immediately and relentlessly. What do we actually do – let’s be honest -in marketing in the UK and America? Does this description sound totally unreasonable?: we try and take the parity product our client has given us and create a layer of desire – either from a genuine product feature or benefit, or from somewhere else if necessary, to make people want to buy it. We then interrupt what they’re doing and shout that message at them. How often do ad agencies really go back to a client and say, ‘we can’t help I’m afraid, you’re product’s just too shit’?

How would it work if we actually tried to bring the user into the deep design process of the product and it’s marketing? Of course we’re not asking them to actually design the product themselves but we must understand what they want and need; what turns them on; what seems average, run of the mill, unexciting; what they would trade for something else?

We’re already seeing that happening, through blogs, good research and straight-forward customer intimacy from a number of companies, especially those who are changing their production methodologies so that new products can be released all the time.

Here’s another thought experiment. How about we try to rebuild the methods of making advertising in a lean vein. Here’s five things I think we can all agree would have to happen immediately:

  1. There’s three people we’d include fully in the actual creative process who are currently excluded – the client, the customer (and/or research company), and the production company (or internal production staff). And we’d include them in planning too, and briefing, and production. And no, the planner can’t stand in for the customer, the account man can’t stand in for the client, and the creative director cannot ‘stand in’ for the team who will actually do the work.
  2. Have you ever worked in an ad agency and watched a campaign go wrong? What do people really do when they see that happening? Do they try and fix the problem? Or do they just remove their arse from the firing line.  The closest I’ve seen to the TPS “five whys” of tracking down and elminiating the causes of defects was a marvelous phrase Charles Vallance coined (and lived up to) at VCCP: ‘tough on whingeing and tough on the causes of whingeing’. Having said that…How many times have you worked on an advertising campaign that was a crock of shit, you knew it wouldn’t work and customers would hate it, so did everyone else, but you just kept ploughing on anyhow. I’m going to raise my hand. Be honest!One of the tenants of TPS is the that everyone on the line can stop the process and raise a concern about quality. In fact it’s encouraged. This comes through to Agile and we add to it by ensuring the code must compile every day. Imagine the agency where every member of staff – from Creative Director to courier has a big red button on their desk to hit whenever they see a horrible campaign – there would be sirens going off all day.
  3. When a campaign sails through research, is that good or bad for the research company, is it good or bad for the ad agency, is it good or bad for the client? So often we have secret communities of interest – or more importantly disinterest – within the groups working on an ad. That’s how we end up with the compromise agreements that fill our screens. In order for us to do the best work, we need joint responsibility for the overall output. This is what Womack et all (MTCTW) refer to as setting targets “one stage up”, and would essentially tie all agencies fortunes to the success of the ad itself.
  4. There should be flexibility, within agencies for staff to move between roles. We’ve all met creatives who are ex-planners or planners who are ex -creatives and we know how well this can work. In terms of team responsibility, does the most experienced member of the team lead, facilitate or get to make all the decisions. There is a role for management in lean to simply enable staff, rather than have to constantly review and overpower their input.
  5. Finally and I suspect the only thing that ad agencies will like out of what I’ve just said, is the question of how should the client pay. On results? On time and materials?, as a fixed price?, On the value of the ideas?This is the hardest bit. And that’s because it’s the bit where ad agencies have spent the longest trying to re-invent the relationship in their favor. The truth, I suspect, is that if we could remove the fairy-dust approach most agencies strive for in the creative departments, and work really hard to help the clients understand what happens to get their campaigns done, and to get them right, clients would be happier to cough up for what that should really cost.It’s a real cost of their business after all. But the situation we’ve got ourselves in is exactly the same as the adversarial situation mass-production car companies have found with their downstream suppliers (like the gearbox makers).Procurement departments won’t pay for any product investment or insight, so suppliers (the agencies) spend their entire time concealing their real costs in production, or the creative development.

    Just because some agencies will say they’re giving away the creative for free doesn’t mean procurement departments should buy it, and a low theoretical margin within a suppler is not always the best business choice.

    Part of the point about payment is the question of what the relationship between clients and advertising agencies should look like. For so long as clients or agencies prioritize things that don’t matter to the customer (I mean awards, but there are all sorts of things that can creep into the relationship), that relationship will fail. And it mustn’t be carefree either. It should be consistently transparent how things are going and if mistakes are made. But that won’t happen when there’s always the threat of the client switching agency over an immediate short-term issue. And, if the client does find a problem in their relationship with the agency, they should be able to help get it fixed by working together on the detail, not just switching to a new supplier. In TPS, senior supplier team members are regularly co-opted into product development teams of the assembler. Couldn’t something similar usefully happen in the marketing world. Similarly, senior assembler team members are sent to increase understanding and efficiencies in the supplier. Would that really be any bad thing?

There’s a lot in those five points, and I’m sure there are hundreds more ideas that could be borrowed from the lean movement in the marketing and creative service sectors, as well of course in the actual marketing departments of client firms. But it will be incredibly difficult for  an agency to really embrace these ideas in these most traditional of worlds? It’s a shame, because it’s about time.

Brave or stupid


Someone at Fallon must have had a couple of difficult meetings to convince Cadbury’s to do this. It’s a nicely shot little film which is… a Gorilla playing the drums along to a Genesis song. Funny, surprising and certainly unusual. If there’s an idea it is that drumming gorillas (skateboarding dogs?) make you smile, which is what Cadbury’s does?

I can’t decide if it’s very brave or very stupid. Perhaps if it’s outrageous enough, people will remember what the ad is for, but I can’t help thinking you could put any product at the end and make it work: how about the Nissan Micra or Bullmer’s Cider?

Dogs on skateboards or cats with ADD

Dog on a skateboard

There’s a brilliant post here by George Parker. As per usual, no prisoners are taken as George savages advertising’s attempt to shove their films into YouTube with the new “Overlay ads”. George is a fan of dogs on skateboards. Personally I don’t think you can beat a cat with attention deficit disorder operating a toilet but hey, each to their own. What neither of us thinks particularly likely is that when watching our favorite pet misbehavior, we’re likely to want to watch an ad for the new Hyundai 4×4.

I know, why not force me to watch the ad by making it a pre-roll? That’d be even better. Or – and I know this sounds crazy – try and come up with something interesting to say that I might actually chose to watch?

Grubby behavior


From the department of faster horses*, Robin’s post about the new ad format from Yahoo! The Smart Ad reminds me of a few quotes:

Firstly, when VCCP (where I worked) announced it was starting its own search specialist, Rob Forshaw of Grand Union was quoted as saying  “The move is potentially very lucrative, although I’d have thought it was too grubby for VCCP to get into.”

Secondly, John Wanamaker, famously said “I know half my advertising dollars are wasted, I just don’t know which half”.

Thirdly, and finally, a quote from Beavis and Butthead: “You can’t polish a turd”.

The idea behind the  Smart Ads, is using the total knowledge of the user’s behavior (including for example, their last search or which of  the Yahoo! sites they have visited and with what frequency), to influence which ads are then shown. Smart ads allow those ads to be configured on the fly to include a relevant offers or promotions. The constituent parts, presumably are to be made up in Digitas’ Greater China Sweatshop (as we saw with Publicis’ digital strategy):

David Kenny, chairman of Digitas, said technology platforms like SmartAds hold the promise of bringing the hyper-targeting and effectiveness of search into the 95 percent of Internet pages that are not search results.

Has anyone at Digitas seen a single eyetracking survey? Users simply tune out visual advertising? They do this because they’ve learned that it’s normally not relevant. This is why AdSense works. It looks like links – which customers are used to finding useful.

But why are ad agencies so obsessed with it being visual anyhow – even if the idea of a simple insight driven message is gone? Isn’t this just a desperate attempt to keep the old norms of advertising intact?

And they don’t work. If John Wanamaker’s quote were being applied to online display advertising (or direct marketing), he would have had to have said, “I know 98% of my advertising dollars are wasted, I just don’t know which 2% are not”.

If advertisers are now so interested in targeted messages, perhaps a few of the agencies should simply reconsider their reticence over grubby targeting advertising.

* Just in case you’re not aware of it. Henry Ford famously said, “If I’d asked customers what they want, they would have said ‘faster horses’

Direct to Hell


There are a few things in life that sound like they’re going to be great but always seem to fail in practice: fondues, windows mobile devices, the conservative party. But surely king of the hill in terms of ‘will never live up to expectations’ is direct marketing.

Advertising is so random, we hear. So what we should do is collect loads of data about people and make sure they only get the most relevant messages. The only problem is – who do we put in charge of gathering all that vital data? It’s marketing people. They’d love to help, but they’re already a little late for lunch at the Ivy.

So we end up with content which is worse than proper advertising (creative means  “change the format” not “people will like it”) which costs more money than proper advertising, often involves huge and embarrassing environmental damage, and is harder to ignore. Incidentally “harder to ignore” is not a brand positive guys!

On returning home tonight, I had to force the door open – as usual – over a pile of Foxton catalogues (full of sold houses) and direct mail. Amongst the usual pile of nonsense I found this archetype of DM trash :


The ‘creative’ idea is that I should shred my bill from my existing  supplier, and they bring this to life by “shredding” half of the letter. Brilliant. On the reverse of the mail pack is the name and address. And here’s the thing about targetting.

A friend of mine used to regularly take business trips to Lithuania, a fantastic part of the Baltic Republic where the EU dollars flow freely and everything is just starting out.

On one of those trips he met a lovely girl our there called Asta.

A couple of years later they’d split up but Asta decided she wanted to try her hand in the UK. I had a spare room at the time, I got on well with Asta and she was the best looking person I’d met in real life, so I agreed she could stay in my spare room. She registered for one bill (Southern Electric I think) in order to be able to prove she lived in the UK in case she decided this was a long-term kind of thing. 

Three months later, she moved back to Vilnius. London wasn’t as great as it had seemed, and it certainly wasn’t easy to get a graphic design job here.

The electric bill is registered to me again. Yet still the direct mail like this one keeps coming (mostly from estate agents urging her to sell). This targeted, accurate medium which drives value through intimacy is still mailing someone who never really moved here, never had residency, and had a total family income under £10. Hard to argue that the money wouldn’t have been better spent on TV advertising – in Lithuanian!

Turn the machines back on

 Monkey typing

When I read this post on Robin’s blog, I had to check it wasn’t April 1 and time for more ‘Google buys France’ and ‘Apple’s going to make a mobile phone’ stories (oh hang on a second, one of those was true). So, courtesy of the New York Times, here is Publicis Group’s strategy:

The plan is to build a global digital ad network that uses offshore labour to create thousands of versions of ads. Then, using data about consumers and computer algorithms, the network will decide which advertising message to show at which moment to every person who turns on a computer, cellphone or eventually – a television.

Of course, it’s possible that NYT has mangled the story but there are elements that even an accomplished satirist couldn’t make up. It seems Digitas – Publicis’ primary digital group (the new name in the UK for Modem Media, amongst other glitterati) – has bought a Chinese ad-building (production) company which is now called ‘Digitas Greater China’ (honestly, I’m not joking, look at the article!).

The vision is a different ad per customer, per view, targeted by stage in the purchase cycle. Well that’s bound to work isn’t it, just look at the success of Direct Marketing. And of course, we’re going to need almost infinite production capacity to get that done:

Digitas executives say that consumers end up with a better experience — even a service — if the ads they are shown are relevant and new.

Isn’t it fascinating to watch the whole industry mourning it’s quiet death with such public frustration. If some poor Chinese labour is earning $2 a week to make that banner I’m looking at, it’s bound to be great. 

First of all – what customers want isn’t better advertising, they want better marketing, including price, place, promotion and – of course – product. Advertising is a function of marketing and for years the most fun part but it is not what it is about. Second of all, since when were display ads the only type of online adveritising? At best, the popularity of the banner, rectangle, skyscraper etc can be put down to advertisers desire for something like TV and print that they can buy, certainly not because consumers want them. Third of all, isn’t better advertising better advertising,  rather than varied advertising being better advertising? And, fourth of all, what will we do when we need to advertise to the people that work in the Chinese advertising sweat shops?

Of course, some may think that Google has already produced and delivered a better strategy with adWords but no, that’s just a tip of the iceberg. Chairman and chief executive Maurice Lévy, is way ahead of the brothers Brin:

Mr. Lévy, who has a penchant for grand ambitions, says he does not plan to compete with Google — rather, he wants Google to need Publicis.

In other news. The Oxford University Press is going to see if they can produce the entire works of Shakespeare using an infinite number of monkeys. (Funnily enough someone did try this).

 UPDATE: a really interesting post on the need to invent the online (and online video) ad models.

More Second Life losers

Two people seen at once in Second Life shock (both work for agency)

PSFK highlights once again that while the hype around Second Life is alive and well, the community itself certainly isn’t. And in even worse health are the advertisers who are flailing away with their empty Second Life spaces. As Wired points out, users simply aren’t finding the virtual reality world interesting enough: 85% of avatars are abandoned (I left mine in AKQA’s reception). And of those 15% that do hang around, they’re definitely not there for Visa’s Island (Visa couldn’t even come up with a good reason to go there) or Coke’s ‘Virtual Thirst Pavillion’.

Wired quotes stats where ‘Sexy Beach’, a popular area with sex shops, dancing and ‘no-strings hookups’ scores a metric of 133,000. Coke gets 27. 

Joseph Jaffe, author of ‘Life after the 30 second spot’ is responsible for Coke’s presence. Despite terrible traffic figures, he says:

“The learning is now. You are a pioneer, and with that comes first-mover advantage”

Wow, I think I’ve just been teleported myself. This time back to 1999. It may not be about ‘exposure’ any more, perhaps ‘engagement’ is more important. But that’s still got to be with more than 20 people. Perhaps the 30 second spot isn’t all that dead after all.

Of course, the empty warehouses of Second Life (a little reminiscent of Canary Wharf at the weekend as Antony points out) are a sign of brand managers desperate not to be left behind like they were with Social networks and the rest.

But of course, with virtually infinite space, it’s about what you’re saying not how loud you can shout. “My Island is bigger than yours” doesn’t really cut it.

And now we must brace ourselves for the ill-thought-through Facebook invasion.

Milking it

 80 Milk Marketing advert

Interesting to read Simon Gill over at LBi Framfab Wheel Icon gushing about the Goodby Silverstein-generated ‘Get the Glass’ campaign (which just won a Gold at Cannes CyberLions) in the same week that Planning for Fun remembers the genius of the classic 80s Ian Rush advert by the UK Milk Marketing Board.

If I could post a comment on Simon’s blog entry (you need to work there to do that), it would be this: “If the GSP milk adver-web-game is so great, and you’ve ‘engaged’ with it  so entirely, how many more glasses of milk are you drinking each day?”

In 500 words, Gill not once refers to selling a single pint more milk, nor driving any perceptual shift about the product’s position. It’s all about the craft employed in making it which is – without a doubt – amazing.

GSP’s famous “got milk” campaign (discussed heavily by John Steel in the excellent Truth, Lies and Advertising: The Art of Account Planning) spotted a consumer insight – that milk was most prized when consumed in combination with other food stuffs, cookies, sandwiches etc – to reverse a long term decline in the fortunes of the California milk marketing board.

Where is the insight in making a game about a family driving around in a little car with lots of milk bottles in it? I have a horrible suspicion the insight is that kids like computer games, so… let’s make a computer game with a milk bottle in it. Wow, that’s lateral thinking.

In fact, the only thing this beautfiul little game appears to be an advert for is the amazing production company that put it together – North Kingdom.

So, those of us that have a 8Mb broadband connection get to play a beautiful game with OK playability (but not a serious contender against proper games), GSP and North Kingdom get a night out in Cannes, a nice little statue of a Lion and some kudos. 1,000 CVs have the game added to them. But what does the client get? Or anyone in the target audience. A big fat bill for the cleint and a website they will never see for the audience.

I don’t get it. How do they get away with this? Getting the client to fund these overblown pieces of awards-fodder.

Out of interest

Set Godin at Ted Tealks

In yet another fascinating TED talks presentation, Seth Godin talks about the end of the TV-industrial complex and the need for relevant interestingness (or interesting relevantness) in products.

His argument is that in a world with not very much media, getting attention was a matter of marketing dollars. In a world with far too much media, it’s about getting and keeping attention by being interesting. We’re all, he says, in the fashion industry now. Brands must try to come up with new and exciting ways to talk to those customers who are most interested in them. And when this is done well, the effect is dramatic, as those consumers spread the word of their finding. He explores the word remarkable for all it’s meaning (not just interesting but talkable), and asserts that for product giants like P&G, safe products, average products are now risky.

Over-simplistic? Perhaps a little. Thought provoking? Definitely. Well worth a watch (17 minutes).

Lion’s share

Loading screens

Robin reports today on the announcement of the Cannes Cyber Lions winners.

In terms of the top “Grand Prix” category, Nike+ gets another mention (after it’s D&AD black pencil success) as does the marvellous Dove Evolution viral film, and Diesel’s underwear thing.

But once we get past the top category, where I agree we’re seeing some interesting thoughtful creative (or insight-led) work, we start to see lots of flashbacks from the late 90s. Yes, they’re beautifully done. But almost all of them are the Flash-only sites that advertising agencies love because they are not limited by practical considerations, replete with a sequence of absolutely massive embedded videos that require 2-3 minute loading screens, “click here to open full screen” messages (which I thought had been made illegal in the late 60s), beautiful TV-style graphics, unusuable interfaces and interactions as pointless as they are lovely to watch.

I feel like I’ve spent longer watching “movie loading” screens this afternoon – while reviewing the work – than I have in the last five years put together.

This isn’t just people who are SOOOO excited by creativity that they just can’t stop themselves ‘creating’ this nonsense, these are people who regard their audience (these people that stand in the way of their pencils and golden lions) with such contempt that they completely ignore any matter of user experience or usability in the name of gloss and glam. And then a bunch of judges that reward them for it.

Is this stuff really back? Or perhaps only in the world of advertising award shows?