The life of Riley

I know it’s a sort of liberal utopian wet dream and I keep going on about it, but a number of things today have pushed me towards the view that our future will move significantly away from mass media, and that the change will happen much faster than most people currently expect. Indeed, the speed of progress in this change is really starting to accelerate, to become wholly entwined in the daily life of our media, and a frame of reference with which even the latest to adopt are becoming very comfortable.

The first thing is the sad story of the death of Olive Riley, the web’s oldest blogger.


Here’s an extract from an early entry:

“You 21st century people live a different life than the one I lived as a youngster in the early 1900s. Take Washing Day, for instance. These days you just toss your dirty clothes into a washing machine, press a few switches, and it’s done.

I remember scratching around to find a few pieces of wood to fire the copper for Mum.


Some time later, when the fire had gone out, Mum would haul the clothes, dripping wet, out of the hot water with a strong wooden copperstick, and that was jolly hard work. The clothes weighed a lot more sopping wet than when they were dry.

Then she would feed the wet washing into a machine called a mangle. It had two large rollers with a narrow gap between them, and a big metal wheel that had to be turned by hand. That was my job – and it was real hard work for a small kid.


Thank you to all my good friends who have sent me interesting emails and loving hugs by commenting on my blob [sic]. Love to you all, and please keep writing those comments.”

The second thing is a small thing. And it’s not, in itself, anything remarkable, but somehow it struck me particularly today. For a brief period years ago, I worked alongside Amelia Torode, who has a well-known blog. Amelia’s always had interesting things to say and often novel viewpoints on the things I’m interested in, so I read her blog and follow her on Twitter. This evening I saw this in a twitter gadget:

google stupid

The link takes you to this post on her blog. It’s exactly the sort of thing Hugh Macleod does all the time, and Scrobble used to do right up until I deleted him from Twitter and Google reader because I was having an overload problem. The post itself is really interesting and I’m glad I followed the link. But it got me thinking: isn’t this cross promotion actually a bit like this:


And this:


I don’t know how many people read Amelia’s blog, or follow her Twitter, but they’re all pretty interested in what she says in those places. And so, it’s probably a  pretty successful advert.

In the same vein, several million twitters promoted the iPhone last weekend,. Could brands really think of any places they’d rather be promoted? Even including search.

The third thing is Twitter’s acquisition of Summize, a small search-engine technology. Why is that interesting? Well look here or here, or here. This is the technology which will make twitter content available to people who don’t know the contributor (strapline: See what the world is doing — right now.”).

What will I be telling my grand kids when I’m 108 (assuming medical science figures how to reconstruct brain cells in the next 70 years)? ‘Well Johnny, you wouldn’t believe what we had to do in the old days. We had to promote all our blog entries on Twitter manually.’

Does it really ad up?


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.
    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.

Planning planning

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


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.

Inflection point


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.


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

In my day


A good day, yesterday for things fitting together and falling into place (to mix up the metaphors a little). The day started reading Amelia’s amazing piece in the Spectator. However much you’re in to new media there’s no denying how cool it is to read people you know in august titles like that, especially when Amelia’s piece is longer, and more prominent than – for examples – Roy Hattersley’s.

The article itself was about the generational gap emerging in technology adoption and it’s well… us. Younger people (under 20s)  find technology to be simply a fact of life* and the older groups (55+) are not cynical about it and have the time and money to explore and adopt.

Slightly ironically, the slow adopters are the group that Coupland named as “Generation X” (today’s 30-somethings) who have the healthy cynicism that comes from having seen the bubble burst once already but without the older generation’s (or indeed Mr C’s) resources to explore and experiment.

A very convincing argument, although one which I suspect is still slightly class-bound, it reinforces many of the points I heard later in the day in a fantastic presentation about social media which Antony gave at Conchango (where I work).

There were hundreds of interesting ideas in that presentation but if I had to pick just three, they would be:

  1. What is happening in the way we communicate really is nothing less than a revolution. As Antony put it, that name may seem overblown as it’s been used too much and too randomly but we must standby it. As with other revolutions in the past, the full effects may take years to become apparent, but Web 1.0, Web 2.0… whatever is as big as the printing press, as big as the enlightenment. As Cluetrain would have it: “deal with it”
  2. When we give people the tools, whether they’re 5 or 55, they take to them. Why? Because we are hard wired to communicate. It’s not clever graphics or gimmickry, it is the need for sociality and it isn’t going anywhere.
  3. Advertising agencies act like they’re getting the message, as they jump on every bandwagon through web-two-point-zero-ville but they are wearing the clothes of the revolutionary without sharing their beliefs. Driven by fear and the desire to return to the well-trodden paths of old, clients and agencies are missing the huge opportunities they could have to actually deliver the basics of marketing through network thinking.

There was a huge amount more of course, plus a look at how Spannerworks is helping clients get to grips with what can be achieved with a positive approach to the new realities.

Finally, I was able listen to Forrester’s take on what web 2.0 means within enterprises. This is a huge topic in its own right, obviously, and one that’s moving very quickly and being driven by a bizarre mix of tiny software companies like Six Apart and the huge vendors like Microsoft and Oracle.

Two points from that resonated, both of which have been talked about in a number of places before but which were really crystallized today.

  1. Getting to grips with scale. No matter how big your company is. It’s absolutely tiny in the domain of the internet (Antony also made this point). Again, this is a “get used to it” sort of a moment for the large corporates.
  2. Back to demographics. Who’s likely to be making the decision about corporate take up of “web 2.0” styles of knowledge management? It’s the IT and operations directors who are unlikely to consume social media and even less likely to contribute to it. Who’s are the next generation of recruits coming into our companies? A group who see these tools as part of day to day life! So expect some very quickly changing attitudes as the new recruits gain their voice.

* Antony recounted a story of a focus group where 11-14 year olds were asked what they would do without the internet. The questioner was met by a series of completely blank looks, as the group found the prospect unimaginable.

Inside out

Why Corporate Blogging works by Hugh Mcleod

Stumbled upon this very good summary from James Gardner of Lloyds TSB of the questions that face enterprises in deciding if they should ‘unleash’ the power of web 2.0 inside their corporations.

My favourite insight into all of this – which I think I originally heard from Euan Semple and James also mentions –  is when managers say, ‘Should we really be giving our staff this level of ability to publish content?’

Of course, this is the illusion of a decision. Staff already have the power outside of the firewall and will use it as they see fit. And they’ll put their own systems in to do it internally – in Euan’s case several thousand BBC staff were, as I understand it, taking part in discussion groups running on a computer sitting under his desk.

And, since when did we enter into a pitch battle with the people who work in our companies? If you read any piece of corporate literature written in the 90s, you’ll undoubtedly find some contrite aphorism that “our people are our strongest (or only) assett”. Well shouldn’t we start acting like that?

The image at the top of this post (taken from Gaping Void like all of those in this article) is part of Hugh MacLeod’s great porous membrane post. Area B is the conversation which is happening about the company in the real world. Area A is the coverstation that is happening about the company inside the company. Besides the fact that you can prove any point using Venn diagrams, Hugh’s argument is that the membrane “X” is being eroded, whether corporates like it or not, every day. And surely that’s the way it should be. The question for companies isn’t “should we play along?” but “how do we get involved with this so that people understand what it is we care about?”.

A few other great cartoons from Hugh while we’re at it:

(I’ve never understood Creative Commons but these are all from Gaping Void and all the genius is Hugh‘s)

Geroge is changing the system from the insideCluetrain for retards

Waiting tables is just a day job. My real love is telling people like you to go fuck themselves.