See what I meme

Thinking blogger awards

Unlike most pyramid schemes, if I break the chain of the “thinking blogger award“, I don’t end up with a life of unhappiness or the loss of multiple limbs.

Nevertheless, it’s a great honor to make Amelia‘s list and it is a pleasure to name some more blogs which inspire me. Obviously these are the tip of a large social-media-shaped iceberg, and not one of them matches up to Amelia’s own posts, which I await with a feverish anticipation normally reserved for teenage girls on the eve of  a new Busted album.

1. Antony on Open. Inspirational and persistent. Spent a year telling me again  and again why blogs weren’t just newsgroups from the 90s with a new name, and didn’t say “told you so” when I started my own. Constantly full of new takes and a resolute understanding of what’s going on.

2. RMM London. Consistently fascinating, witty and understated.

3. Creating Passionate Users. I don’t know how it ended up in my reader. Looking for a quote about usability I think and then I found this amazing repository of thinking which extends design from functional basics to the most fantastically sophicated thoughts about usability and user engagement. I still refer back to Kathy Sierra’s posts regularly. There are some real classics. I hope with time she will feel she can return to bringing us her beautiful insights.

4. AdLiterate from Richard Huntingdon. Pound for pound, the most insightful blog on the internet. Sometimes caustic, always engaging, brilliantly written and with fab illustrations. 

5. Russell Davies, of course. I’m sure I can’t be the first to nominate him.  Fascinating thoughts, beautifully written. I’d love to know what his five are.

Right guys, keep the chain within five days or your coffee will curdle and your wallpaper will peel.

As seen on Web 2.0

Blog maps

Antony’s Map, Monitor and Engage mantra was a great rule of thumb for brand marketers looking to take their first steps in social media. Unlike most 1-line solutions it has the benefit of being usable and meaningful; providing an actionable plan for sometimes very hesitant marketers. First of all work out who your community is, then track what they’re saying about you (and everything else) and then – and only then – consider how to engage with them. Easy!

It (or this approach at least) also led to few practical mapping/monitoring tools, often called “webmaps” such as Jon‘s and one from Spannerworks. I’ve heard of two or three others, and just today seen this interesting post from a staffer at VML, who are using their seer solution to alert brands to problems (unhappy conversations) so action can be taken. The Wall Street Journal discussed how Seer was used by Addidas to spot a problem with its Predator boot which led them to provide customers with care advice. Perhaps it would be preferable for customers to be having those conversations directly with the brand but this is a good second best.

More importantly than the fact they’re clearly getting better press coverage, VML certainly has won the battle for the coolest (if not strikingly useful) visualisation.

The home of the journey

Duel - page advert for Club Internet

Everyone seems to be raving about the Club Internet advert (above). Apparently it’s a new dawn of creativity online, going so far beyond what is possible on the normal or expanding banner advertising formats.

Well it’s certainly an interesting thing to watch. If you got the spare 25 minutes it takes to load, then the effect (of the actors in a l-rec style ad falling out of the ad format and continuing their fight on the page) is funny and entertaining. And it’s well executed by the agency that did it. It is also, however essentially a TV advert on the interweb. The idea is clearly about a webpage that turns into a battleground, but this ad would work better on the TV without the load time and lag, and without the need to look like the page works when actually its a big picture. Doing the ad on TV would also allow for a voiceover to explain what the advert is FOR. Since the offer (broadband for 30 euromarks) is otherwise completely lost as the page itself is background and is destroyed in the duel.

Much of this comes back to a lot longer-running debate, and what promises to be an ongoing and hotly contested fight about who’s best to do digital advertising (digital people or advertising people), and slightly more involved, where does the marketing stop and the business process start in such a connected environment.

All of these debates are posing difficult practical questions for clients and sending many traditional agencies into a bit of a spin. Well documented was BBH’s response when it won the pan European Axe work (it’s all about the creative idea). And we’ve seen it go the other way too.  AQKA win Yell’s above the line account and got Ikea’s. Once again, “it’s all about creative ideas” but with a bit more of the user-journey thinking built in.

This is the quote from John O’Keeffe – executive creative director of BBH London – which also formed the heart of a Campaign article

“A couple of years ago, we might have been at a disadvantage in a pitch like this, simply for lack of having the digital craft skills in-house. We now have that capability: whereupon this, and any other digital pitch for that matter, comes down to the same question that decides any such process: who has the best idea?”

As someone who has worked in this setting, I understand a little bit of what sits behind the headlines, and the functional problems that can exist trying to actually get these projects to work. Stories abound of the fairly disasterous digital audi work BBH has just completed and the departure of their head of digital production after only three months. There go those ‘craft skills’, which one has to assume were at least in part being borrowed from other agencies in any case for the pitches. Doubtless, though the very difficult traditional/digital agency mergers will continue for some years to try and solve these problems.

In a lot of cases (like the one we started with), the problem is that “creative idea” actually really means a visual or video idea. Becuase the sort of creative breakthrough which allows for really good user-engagement online, are actually creative planning ideas – consumer insights brought to life, combined with an understanding that online people take action rather than just builidng memories. But we also still see so many agencies unable or unwilling to take onboard the insights of the Cluetrain manifesto to understand why online is not another channel – you don’t always get to select the method and means by which you speak to consumers.

And the debate rumbles on. Ashley Friedlein  of e-consultancy last week set the scene again for this most contentious of battles, which Jim Taylor has also done a great job of mapping out in his Space Race (very much an insider’s view, loaded with keen observation about the what real structural constraints that are driving the industry).

Is there an upside to this in-fighting? Although a few skirmishes still happen, the advertising agency world does seem to have at least withdrawn from the battleground of the functional website, thank heavens. What we need now is a new brand of agencies that can do for digital advertising what web agencies have done for websites. But those won’t be set apart by cunning production methodologies or outsourcing to India, but by a redefinition of what planning and creative mean in this setting, and how that relates to user’s needs and desires.


Paris Hilton with a Blackberry

I’ve never really understood Twitter. I regard this as a weakness. All the coolest people seem to love it, and I can see how it’s a neat concept. I just wonder what I’d put: “Doing sudoku on tube”, “buggering up a lasagne”, “In meeting”, “reading in bed”. I’d bore myself.

Well I’m delighted to see that I’m not 100% alone in my luditeitude (I hearby create a new word!). This brilliant ‘Creating passionate users’ post by Kathy Sierra goes well beyond that initial suspicion that there’s something a bit freaky in it, putting a (very cool) name to a phenomenon I’d been quietly aware of for some time.

In the quite brilliant Perfect Pitch, Jon Steel talks about how constantly receiving and checking of messages can (temporarily) lower your IQ by 10 points.

We now know what it’s called:  “intermittent variable reward”. Or, in other words: behaviour which is rewarded/reinforced intermittently, rather than consistently – is the most difficult to extinguish. Or to really reduce it to simple terms, the addiction to email and Blackberries is similar to slot machines. As Patricia Wallace put it in Time magazine: “You are not sure you are going to get a reward every time or how often you will, so you keep pulling that handle.”

Not content with revealing the real reason for email addiction, Sierra goes on to explain the emotional dissonance that arises out of “virtual” interactions – although this is not necessarily a twitter phenomonen – it applies equally well to TV. The brain feels like it’s experiencing social interaction but is missing an element – body language etc, leaving the subject feeling disappointed and dejected.

Finally, Sierra brings in the concept of “continual partial attention”. Thinking-wise, what we as humans enjoy most is deep thought and processing. But what we do now is the opposite, we constantly pay partial attention to a huge range of inputs. We care more about not missing anything than about actually focussing on and achieving anything.

Steep Learning Curb

Mrs Malaprop

I used to work with an account manager years ago who was great (rather unintentionally unfortunately) at Malapropisms. It was she who authored the legendry (in my then company at least) description of the millennium fireworks as a “damp squid” and several hundred others. Our favourite was that a new project represented a “steep learning curb”.

 Well I’ve been thinking a lot about that as I read Erik du Plessis‘ excellent The Advertised Mind. Du Plessis is CEO of Milwood Brown in South Africa and has spent years researching how people actually consume adverts, and how the consumption of advertising relates to the actual process of purchasing things.

There’s loads of brilliant insights in it. Including:

  1. The process of rational thought and emotional thought – which many advertising researchers had assumed were completely separate processes – are actually very closely related. Emotion moderates rational thought processes.
  2. The concept of brand soma – the connections that the brain makes around brands can be influenced by years of memories, with links being strengthened by repetition. Read the following words and see what pops in there: Coca Cola
  3. Brand names act as triggers to all memories of the brand. Du Plessis’ analogy is the key that unlocks the cupboard door with the huge range of memories falling out at random.
  4. Advertising can form part of brand memories
  5. Ad-liking and brand-liking are primary deciders of effectiveness (this also correlates to entertainment, empathy, and relevant news)
  6. The process of interpreting ads and them feeding into generating response is the same as any sort of learning.
  7. Ads have a lot to do with a very short space of time / small amount of attention in which to get it done
  8. Confusing advertising is ignored or forms negative brand memories

But the best of all is the insight into what happens with obscure or unusuable advertising. Of ads surveyed in AdTrack, of the 55% of respondents who remembered a selection of adverts, 18% couldn’t name the brand and 12% got the brand wrong. 

Sound alright? For a almost a quarter of the ads that respondents could remember at all, they attributed them to a competitor brand! Still fancy running that obscure advertising campaign?

Du Plessis also discusses the concept of “effective length” of an advert. For a 30 second which introduces the brand only at 23 seconds, the “effective length” is 7 seconds. Up to 23 seconds, the brain processes the ad but those memories are not attached to brand memories. This is one of those brilliant insights. As soon as you hear it, you know it absolutely to be true without any doubt. Try it out on any ad on TV. He’s not saying that the logo needs to be in the first frame. There are all sorts of brand properties: The BA clouds, the BA jingle, O2 bubbles, The Scottish Widow, the coke bottle shape, the visual styling of the ad itself.

Thinking about how this would apply to interfaces. Well we already know that people look for recognisable patterns. I think it’s also key that bad experiences online can get filed against that brand just the same way product experiences can.

From an online marketing point of view, the concept of effective length carries across directly. But so does the fact that confusion causes content to be ignored or generate negative brand memories. So viral marketing, where the idea of the viral is not a brand idea, should have virtually no brand footprint. If the brand is going to be associated with the viral, it must be IN the viral, not the last frame of it.

Five things

I got tagged by Antony from Open in Jeff Pulver’s Five Things People Don’t Know About Me game. It’s a pyramid scheme for the noughties! With the currency being what? Link equity?

 No doubt Antony or Jon will be finding a cunning way to map these links back together to work out who really is “it”.

  1. I was in a couple of bands at university, playing guitar occassionally and doing some recording and producing: Song Star and Marmalade Cat. Best writing credit was probably for “Talk to me” (a song I co-wrote about a girl I had a horrible, teenage crush on).
  2. I spent a year after A-Levels teaching maths in a rural school in Zimbabwe. No running water or electricity and lots of 22 year-olds still resitting their exams!
  3. My middle name, Alexander is the name of the street I was born on, because my parents weren’t expecting twins and had to divide the names up!
  4. I started my working life doing crappy newsgroup postings for PeopleBank (one of the first overpriced dotcoms) before a few years in “real” media!
  5. I was the Somerfield Magazine agony uncle (“Ask Tom”) answering bizarre questions on teenage relationships when I was assistant editor there.

Next in line. Five people I’d like to hear from Jon Leach; Amelia Torode; Leo, Matt and Ian at RMM (sorry if that’s cheating but it’s Christmas Eve and I’ve got wrapping to do!)