Do we have the imagination to radically change our industry?

I love our industry, I really do, but I also increasingly fear for its future. By and large we’re a hugely creative and talented bunch of people, but far too blind and cynical to the sheer exponential rate of technological change. We simply do not comprehend either the size of the problem or the opportunity that is staring at us in the face.

So after a few days reflecting on a week spent at SxSW, I just can’t help thinking that we lack the imagination to genuinely do things differently and really disrupt our own industry, let alone industries on behalf our clients. I genuinely fear that whilst we happily celebrate creativity at the numerous awards shows around the world, advertising as we know it is going to blow up in our face.

It’s as if we’re driving a beat up old Holden and trying to make it fly – instead we need to be making a totally new flying machine. In the words of Google’s ‘Captain of Moonshots’ it’s easier to make something 10 times better than 10 percent better. Perhaps now is the time for us all to ‘Reimagine Advertising’ and not just leave it up to companies like Google to do it for us.

Whilst we continue to talk about creativity, the power of emotional storytelling and social media, technology is being used to do some increasingly wonderful and disruptive things. I’m also afraid to say, by some infinitely more imaginative people. In fact so much so, they make us advertising types look all very quaint in the grand scheme of what’s possible.

Half of the problem comes down to our fixation with the new as well as the old. Every year when SxSW comes along, in a very futile attempt to prove to clients we get digital, we get obsessed with the ‘shiny things’, such as the latest app, Google Glasses or 3D printing. Instead we really need to think about how these technologies are impacting industries at a rate never before seen.

As an example, imagine a world where you can literally print anything you like – including guns. Yes that’s right, there was one session focused on the ability to 3D print guns. Whilst crazy, it is very real and it has huge implications for manufacturing. Want a Lego brick? Print it. Want a house? Print it. For not much more than $2K there is a technology out there that will bring down as many companies as it makes.

Don’t be scared though. Whilst it might be bad for businesses it’s great for people. Imagine if your children could dream up and make their own toys- how creative might they grow up to be? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if they filled their time making things rather than watching TV?

Now try imagining a world where everything is automated through the power of computation. The man with the giant brain, Stephen Wolfram does and he has created a number of products that have already started to turn this into a reality.

This could of course mean the end of many jobs, particularly in advertising. Media planning and buying is already becoming automated much like the finance world. Even the making of a website, an app or even an advert could become automated, which is good for everyone apart from agencies.

An application that could automate the making of an application is a slightly hard concept to get your head around, but it’s happening and the list of these types of disruptive developments in technology from SxSW is exhaustive.

Dennis Crowley, founder of FourSquare, yes it still exists, summed up SxSW perfectly by saying: “SxSW is like spending a few days in the future and then going back to the present.” My only build on this is that we are already very much in the future and if we continue to blink, we’re in danger of missing it.

After fear my second feeling from SxSW was a mix of optimism and envy. When you hear Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX talking about transforming energy, transportation and even sending a rocket to Mars to find another habitable planet for humanity, it’s hard not to admire peoples’ vision and imagination at SxSW.

Which leads me on to another great SxSW quote from an interview with Nick Cave: “I’ve spent my entire career banging my head up against people with a lack of imagination.”

Having now experienced SxSW and arguably a bit of the future, it’s imagination that the advertising industry needs more of, not creativity. We lack the will and determination to fight the good fight and create a much more sustainable system; it’s all short term gain (and awards) over a real a long term future.

Ultimately there is all this opportunity available and we’re squandering it by trying to do the same things a bit better than last year. The advertising industry loves to talk up its creativity credentials but its imagination that would have won awards at SxSW.

The main overall theme from SxSW is that we need to solve real human problems – no matter how big or small. Rather refreshingly I’m not sure I heard the word ‘consumer’ once at SxSW, it was all about designing things that solve real human problems and making technology as invisible as possible.

Leap Motion’s controller let’s you naturally navigate websites in a Minority Report fashion. Google Glasses is another example of making it easier to search and explore the world around you without staring down at your phone.

Connected objects were also in abundance. There was a doorbell that would subtly chime louder and louder as Mum or Dad gets closer to home from work. The Skype Cabinet that turned the experience of video chat into furniture. Google also programmed a pair of adidias trainers to talk to you when you are too idle.

Other highlights included Volkswagen, again with Google, showing a glimpse of Smileage, an application that aims to make driving fun again. Developments in facial recognition software is also one too watch. As connected TVs become more popular, it will be possible to serve up relevant ads based on who is watching. Yes even advertising will become more human too.

One of the best human traits we have is our imagination and there has never been a better and more critical time for us to put it to work. I also think it will be a lot more fun.

Advertising, Communications, Strategy

Work in strategy and planning? Stretch yourself

When you were young, can you remember your parents ever saying something along the lines of; ‘it’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it’

Well guess what? As always they were right and never has a truer word been said when it comes to agency folk. Particularly planners.

I’m continually amazed by how many types of strategists it takes to change the communications light bulb these days.

A GP doesn’t go; ‘Well that seems like a nasty cold, but let me consult my cold and flu specialist before I make a diagnosis.’

Yes there are times when you should engage a specialist (and I mean real specialists), but I see no reason why a modern brand planner shouldn’t get social media and vice versa. Why shouldn’t account planners know the fundamentals of user experience design and media planning? In fact I’d have it in the job description.

A GP essentially has a working knowledge of the human body. More often than not they can fix it and when they can’t, they know who to call. They don’t wheel out a brain surgeon every time someone walks in with a headache.

This is essentially what still happens in adland. Every time the Internet word gets mentioned in a client meeting all the agencies wheel out their digital and social media strategists. Probably to show they get it, partly because the rest of their team don’t, but mostly because they see it as a new revenue opportunity.

I’d love to see account planners step out of their comfort zone and learn the ins and outs of media. More importantly agencies need to move digital talent upstream and input into brand problems rather than just working on Facebook brand pages and shiny iPhone apps. Some of the best thinking on brands today comes from people with digital backgrounds and not advertising.

Just like the healthcare industry with GPs, can’t we just have smart people that get a lot of different stuff? Do we need to a strategist for every ailment a brand has?

To be honest much of this is caused by gaps in people’s knowledge and the companies they work for. You don’t know what you don’t know right? However it’s easily fixed. Keep learning new stuff and go and work in different kinds of agencies or on different projects. Trust me it’s fun.

Business models, Communities, Digital, Music

A fairer business model for musicians? (and you can bring back Cast)

Whilst watching the awesome show Soccer AM last week I was pleased to see that Cast are trying to make a comeback. More interestingly they’re doing it without the help of record labels.

Using Pledge Music, fans can donate money to help a band release an album so that band can own all the rights to their music. In return a percentage goes to charity (a bit Bono I know) but there’s also a range of incentives that match the contribution of the pledgee. Ranging from 8 quid for a download of the album or 1,500 for a live acoustic set, there’s plenty of options that reflect the value of your investment.

The Times, rather ironically, blogged about the music industry a while back showing that music revenue isn’t going down, it’s just being distributed more efficiently and to be honest fairly. In the digital age artists are receiving more money than ever before both directly and through live gigs. For a more succinct analysis go to Mr Kay.

Having said that there is still a huge divide. Apparently for every $1,000 in music sold, the average musician makes only $23.40

Via The Daily Swarm

Go Cast, Go a better model for musicians.

Branding, Communications, Digital, Digital Strategy

Marketing as platforms and applications

I’ve always believed that the single easiest way to get your head round digital and more importantly the direction of communications and culture type stuff, is to simply look at the vocabulary being used by the people that do the doing, not the thinking. This post on Savage Minds highlights a potentially better way of looking at marketing by comparing the techy terms like platform to culture and application to subculture.

It makes sense when you think about. You don’t really manage a brand in neat little channels anymore. Like in John Grant’s book, The Brand Innovation Manifesto, brands are really defined by a bunch of complimentary associations and experiences. John calls these brand molecules, but it’s essentially the same. You should be creating a platform, with a series of applications that allow you to keep moving quickly and effectively. Much like Starbucks has done

Don’t get me wrong, we don’t need anymore marketing words, but we do need to use more helpful ones.

Communications, Digital, Digital Strategy

The Future of TV from Razorfish

I don’t really see analog and digital as being this TV verus the Internet thing. But more related to how different people (mainly generations) think abouth stuff. There so much opportunity in TV that’s it’s only a matter of time before it starts to look more and more like the Internet.

This is great Razorfish presentation from SXSW Festival that essentially shows what TV is probably going to look like once the digital people get more and more involved. It was presented at Cannes last year but in this version Razorfish seem to have actually flushed out how the potential interface might look under various scenarios. (Start from about slide 12)

Digital, Strategy

The Brits, musical mashups and digital sales

In no particular order and by no means probably that coherent, some interesting things happened in music this week.

First of all we experienced some nice recombinant culture in action and how good the final, unexpected result can be received and quickly spread through t’internet. I’m talking about Dizzee Rascal and Florence performing at the Brits. We saw two artists, who have recently covered two old dance tracks perform a duet live that mashed the both of them up.

Now this is a potentially a royalties nightmare I guess but they managed to get it up on iTunes within 5 hours of the performance finishing. Well done. It also appears to be unofficially up on Youtube. Here it is.

The other closely related news wasn’t just that Lady Gaga won a heap of awards this week, she is proving to be a bit of an expert when it comes to the business side of digital as well as promotion. Here’s an extract from the Wall Street journal highlighting why Lady Gaga gets it:

“Lady Gaga’s towering digital sales, almost all of them iTunes downloads, only tell part of the story. In fact, much of Gaga’s audience got her music for free, and legally. They have listened to free streams—by the hundreds of millions—on YouTube and the other online services that Gaga currently leads, according to research firm BigChampagne. On MySpace, Gaga has had 321.5 million plays. By contrast, singer Susan Boyle tallied only 133,000 plays, despite scoring the No. 2 selling album of 2009.

Gaga isn’t giving it away for nothing—musicians typically earn fractions of a penny each time a song is streamed on Yahoo, for instance. While most artists stand to profit more from high-margin CD sales, being embedded across the Web can pay dividends in exposure and the loyalty of fans”

So where did Dizzee, Florence et al miss a trick? Well kudos for getting it up on iTunes but they didn’t close the loop and get it on the web first guiding people to said iTunes. They just didn’t learn from Chris Brown’s success piggy backing on the back of the now famous JK wedding entrance. Apparently digital sales jumped from 3,000 to 50,000 in the first week as a result of just advertising it on the content.

Dizzee and Florence

Chris Brown

The moral of the story? Don’t try and control it, feed it.


adidas dunks a good Youtube experience

This is a pretty neat idea from adidas using Youtube to deliver its basketball content. Rather than just spurting it all over the web then wiping their hands of it adidas really thought about the context and how they could use Youtube in an interesting way.

Essentially in one section videos are only unlocked once the latest has been viewed a certain amount of times. Genius. The others allow you to control or influence the video. Simple but better than the usual spray and pray or TV on the web approach.

Another great find from Rubbishcorp

Advertising, Communications, Digital, Digital Strategy, Strategy

Be stupid and forget the single moment

I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes, mostly because it’s not just another UGC competition. They have really thought about what happens before and after the thing that a lot of marketing peeps probably focus on and that’s the competition bit.

Why do I like it? It takes an interesting position. It’s aimed at an audience capable of creating content that the rest of its actual audience will find interesting. It then becomes Diesel’s next catalogue. And not just any catalogue, it’s a music video catalogue.

We spend too much time thinking about the ad, the event, the email or the Facebook group and not enough about what happens before and after we create it. I don’t believe that thinking of communications as a bunch of single moments leads to interesting communications. When you scratch beneath the surface Diesel’s Be stupid campaign is more than just a UGC competition.


A reflection on planning by planners

Nothing better than some intelligent reflection to finish the year. Spur by Redscout (hosted on PSFK) has recently produced a series of vids from smart people talking about the role of planners today and in the furture. Really good stuff.

1. Is planning impotent?

2. What makes a good planner?

3. Are planners glorified researchers?

4. Is planning handicapped by advertising?

5. What is the future of Planning?

Communications, Digital, Strategy

This year’s thoughts on marketing next year: The prelude

There’s been a lot percolating in my head over the last and it’s about time I got it out in a series of posts relating to marketing as I’ve seen it this year. Hopefully you’ll find it mildly helpful and interesting…and not too rambly.

Correct me if I’m wrong but I think anyone who works in a digital agency probably spent most of last year trying to demonstrate how modern marketing needs a distinctive and somewhat evolved approach to work in digital I daren’t say different because that merely feeds the binary decision making and black or white thinking that hinders many organisations. But as Eric Schmidt highlights, we do need to stop making a distinction between media.

That’s not to say that brands aren’t doing good things, it’s probably the most exciting time to be doing what we do. However things are still broken on a vast scale and the problems lie in systems, business models, metrics and marketers being outpaced by how people are using technology.

To use a Mark Zuckerberg quote: “A lot of this (change) is just social norms catching up with what technology is capable of.” The problem is of course, social norms are way ahead of most brands thanks to said technology.

My esteemed colleague Iain McDonald likes to use this little thought experiment to highlight how ridiculous some of our thinking actually is when you look at life through a digital lens.

First of all imagine if the Internet, as it is today, came before TV. Then someone said to you we are going to put a big box in the corner of your living room. You can only watch certain programmes when we say you can and then every 15 minutes we are going to show you half a dozen ads that are 9 times out of ten, irrelevant and uninteresting. We will then repeat many programmes that you have already seen throughout the year. You would obviously tell them to get stuffed.

Online behaviour and the use of technology is changing people’s expectations of brands and how they actually behave in the real world. I will cover a few things before the year is out that will hopefully help you for the next – a fresh start and all that guff.

Things like the re-calibrating of businesses, forgetting what you know, the great digital realisation that people don’t care about brands, marketing to networks, convergence of media, media slices rather than chunks, the system of objects, innovative research and measurement. Next post to come shortly…I hope.