Now we know what the future looks like

Back to the future

The whole phrase is ‘Now we know what the future looks like, what would we like to do with it?’

For the second post in a row I’m afraid I’m in a rather idealistic mood. But it seems to me, now, that we look at the structure of business and marketing as it’s being done by the market leaders, we look at posts by visionaries like this one, this one and this one, and we think we pretty much know how this is going to shake out…

The question of micro distribution of corporate reputation has been answered. The question of finding value inside organistations through enablement of individuals has been proven. The question of whether we think better separately or together has been answered.

So, my point is this. In the Future (doesn’t really need a capital does it, since it’s only a couple of minutes away), if we assume that we will broadly have a marketplace of ideas where we all now can have our say. If we will have a world where communities of interest can be powerful, and massively devolved. If we will have a world where companies can thive by coming up with powerful ideas and finding ways to communicate them quickly and powerfully. Then what do we want out of that world?

It probably sounds a bit irrelevant but it’s an important question. Because we’re not, any of us, I think really after better mp3 players, nor mobile phones, nor fruit smoothies.

But we also don’t really have the passions of the past. If we live in big cities, at least, we’ve started to see the back of racism, sexism, for the most part, intollerance; what are we worrying about now? Knife crime? I know it’s a serious question but it’s very recent and very media orientated. House prices? Economy? That’s just not intereting, really.

I think it’s about this (you’ll read a transcript of a Clinton interview about finding similarities rather than differences). For all the things that have been resolved, we live in a world where far too many inequalities exist for the wrong reason (there are good reasons for alot of inequalities of course).

But I’m in intrigued about views here.

If we’re all going to be a position where we have all this extra information, all this extra access to cheap, easy, global media, all of this ability to form communities, how do we use this to moderate our behaviour for the better?

And more to the point, what is we actually want to achieve? Or are we all going to turn into Miss World, and look for world peace and happy families.

Footing the Bill

Bill Gates at Harvard Commencement Clinton on Ted Talks

This burst of conversation about the new project from the Economist (where I admit, my cynicism got the better of me, although I do think it could have been better explained) got me thinking about the broader convergence which we seem to be seeing from sources likes Bill Gates (Harvard Commencement address) and the great brains of the Ted Talks including the old smooth talker himself Bill Clinton (building a better world for his daughter’s generation). Indeed the view seems mooted in so many circles that it may even be possible to find a third post-major-job, superbrained Bill to join the… er… bill.

The popular conception is that markets are efficient but uncaring, and that people in general are happy to ignore problems on the other side of the plannet. But as Gates says:

If you believe that every life has equal value, it’s revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not. We said to ourselves: “This can’t be true. But if it is true, it deserves to be the priority of our giving.”

So we began our work in the same way anyone here would begin it. We asked: “How could the world let these children die?”

The answer is simple, and harsh. The market did not reward saving the lives of these children, and governments did not subsidize it. So the children died because their mothers and their fathers had no power in the market and no voice in the system.

But you and I have both.

I am optimistic that we can do this, but I talk to skeptics who claim there is no hope. They say: “Inequity has been with us since the beginning, and will be with us till the end – because people just … don’t … care.” I completely disagree.

I believe we have more caring than we know what to do with.

All of us here in this Yard, at one time or another, have seen human tragedies that broke our hearts, and yet we did nothing – not because we didn’t care, but because we didn’t know what to do. If we had known how to help, we would have acted.

Both Clinton and Gates sieze on the understanding that we all have massively more power to raise money, to raise issues and to express ourselves than previous generations.

And the solution isn’t to abandon the market in favour of some alternative system. The solution is to rebuild the market so that it rewards the things we care about. Much of Clinton’s presentation is also about the fact that actually the market arrangements in the most needy areas are the most disorganised. It is often a lack of knowledge and or organisation, not money which sustains the world’s problems:

The only thing that is keeping us from saving the lives of everybody who needs the medicine to stay alive is the absence of the systems necessary to diagnose treat and care for people, and deliver this medicine.

Not money.

He talks about reducing the price of AIDS medicine in the Bahamas from $3500 per person per year to $100 by driving efficiencies in the market. He describes this as changing the manufacturer’s business model from being a grocery-store model rather than jewelry-store model!

People will pay for the things they want. The market must enable it and for-profit charity is better than not-for-profit charity because it is more sustainable. 

Is this something Project Stripe will help? It’s a very bold mission. Certainly, they’ve got a very effective idol it follow in Muhammad Yunus. Best of luck to them.


In my current job, we care alot how much time people are spending online. That’s becuase it tends to feed very directly into how much media our clients should buy that way. That’s a very old fashioned approach really – although it works (for forecasting trends at least). In presentations this is called “money follows eyeballs”.

Of course the reason that this is unsophisticated is partly that media, by its own admission, is somewhat blunt but mainly that it leads people into a bit of broken thinking. “I used to spend £40bn on TV advertising when that accounted for 40% of consumers’ media time, now it’s 20% internet, 20% TV so I’m sticking £20bn into online”. That would work fine if people *watched* the internet.

I’m not saying display advertising doesn’t work obviously, just that the web requires more sophisticated thinking. It’s a doing space.

So lets look at the real numbers that should move us: “In November, UK internet sales reached £3bn” (IMRG) that’s £4.57m an hour,  and marks a 50% increase from one year ago. IMRG CEO James Roper sums it up beautifully, “Though no longer a suprise, growth of this magnitude is neverthessless breathtaking”. In the 7 years of the survey the total for the 10 week run-up to Christmas has grown from £0.5bbn to £7bn.

Suprisingly forward, suprisingly backward

I don’t normally talk about commercial stuff here but I went to a very odd conference this week. I can’t say exactly what it was but it was a large UK communications group talking about how the current generation of internet trends were being reflected in their business.

Of course, the “2.0” thing was mentioned excesively but in the same breath we also heard about a “viral” campaign for a mortgage advice company, we heard about amazon-style profiling of user’s needs on a 10k website, and we heard about how CD-Roms are still viable before being showing us  a CD-Rom interface with web style navigation.

It was like a hideous 1999 flash back. There’s a lot of clever people making clever observations about the way our world is changing, but our industry has its own very long tail!!

Let us not forget that it was the crap me-too agencies that really helped the bubble burst last time round. Let’s crack down on terrible, ill-informed copyists in our industry just as they would be in any other.


(Transfered from Blogger / Typepad)

If there’s a sure fire sign that the bubble is building again, it’s the resurfacing of .com-era economics projections.These economic ‘models’ work something like this:

Let’s assume there are 1bn internet users world wide. Let’s say 0.005% of those people might be interested in my new $10 train spotting kit. Therefore, using nothing more than my pocket calculator, I can prove that my train spotting kit
website is worth $50m. That’s a profit of $25m. Mum, I’m a millionaire.

There’s three rather major flaws with this reasoning unfortunately, although none of these have had much of an impact on slowing down the use of the formula.

  1. Cost of sale. While selling online is cheaper than building a store or a distribution network, it is not free and neither is marketing. It costs as much money to build a brand online as it does to build it offline
  2. Captive market. The web makes connection with your buyer easy, but it does the same with the billion other products competing for your audiences $10. The web provides the framework for perfect competition. If you’re making a super-normal profit other train-spotting kit manufacturers will come in and compete with you.
  3. The internet is task based. While people might occassionally be distracted by online advertising, they are typically busy doing other things, not considering the train-spotters kit.

So the reality of the sum is easy. 1 bn x 0 = 0.