First principle companies rather than branding by analogy

OK, so this is the first post after last week’s commitment to making 2014 a bit more soulful. With a bit less advertising chat and a bit more thought on using creativity to make better companies.

To start then, I’m going to steal this marvellous way of looking at the world from Elon Musk.

In it Mr Musk advocates reasoning from ‘first principle’ rather than by analogy and also suggests the latter fundamentally hinders real innovation and progress. Given he is essentially a super hero he is probably right.

First principle is a theory that stems from mathematics, or philosophy, or physics (I’m not even sure Wikipedia knows);

‘It (first principle) starts directly at the level of established science and does not make assumptions such as empirical models and fitting parameters’.

Essentially it’s reasoning that starts from a pure almost untainted place- the roots of the task at hand if you will. For example, we’re in the business of getting people from A to B, not we are in the business of getting people from A to B in a car, that only uses petrol.

It’s kind of the purest of truths that you need to start reasoning from. Not the ‘truth’ that many agencies and brands construct over the years from some sort of analogy.

Now you’re cognisant of this I guarantee you will see it in every presentation. Everyone has heard some spiel like this:

“OK we have an idea and it’s a bit like ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ crossed with ‘Dove’s Real Beauty’ and the TV ad will use this obscure treatment nobody has ever heard of.  This will make it so ownable and deliver an emotional connection that moves your consumers to such a euphoric state, you will be sipping Pina Coladas in the South of France before you know it”  

We literally use analogies on top of analogies and quite often they’re from the same small pool.

Reasoning by analogy isn’t quite the opposite of first principle. These are solutions developed with a distraction at play that stops you seeing the real opportunity staring you in the face.

This might be the product you currently sell, quarterly sales targets, a category convention, something your competitor has done, awareness tracking, ad testing or perhaps the next trend from Cannes in 2014.

These analogies might be important but they can be unhelpful, they hold you back and certainly make you vulnerable to disruption.

It’s all so bloody obvious but hardly any of us manage to do it – mostly due to the fact it can require massive change. It would also put planners out of a job but some might say that’s a good thing.

Google is a great example of a company applying first principle to its search business (I’m post rationalising I know, they might not actually do it but humour so I can illustrate the point)

A copywriter I once worked with hated the Internet. In fact he was quite dismissive of anything that wasn’t ‘on tele’. Google was one of these companies – it was essentially the Yellow Pages of the Internet, he just couldn’t get what all the fuss was about.

This is an example of reasoning from analogy and it happens in advertising everyday.

To Google however its first principle is about freeing up information and allowing people to search it, irrespective of the interface or technology.

This leads to products like search engines but also Google Earth, Android, Google Glasses, Google Now, self driving cars and of course a lot of advertising revenue.

Where Google makes money is a byproduct of what they focus on, it’s not the first principle they focus on. If Google’s ambition were based on being a better directory that sold more targeted advertising it would not be as successful as it is. In fact you would probably have got to this page via AOL and a Nokia.

Now let’s take TV networks.

TV networks are fucked because they have forgotten their first principle and ruined the experience.  It’s all reasoning from the analogies of a television set and advertising revenue generated from spots and dots. Enter Netflix et al.

FMCG brands, at least in Australia, are fucked because they reason from a narrow definition of their products and supermarkets as the primary distribution method.

Which leads me finally on to advertising agencies or how we would rather be described, creative agencies.

I know everyone says they solve business problems but only if it’s using advertising of a very narrow and quite passive nature

Even our definition of advertising has lost it real meaning thanks to reasoning from analogy. If advertising derives from the latin ‘ad vertere’ meaning ‘turn toward’ perhaps that might be a more constructive first principle to start from?

If we can just drop the analogy of advertising from creativity and just apply it to making companies better perhaps we might see some real progress.

Maybe our first principle could be to help companies deliver on their first principle or is that all a bit too much like Inception?

Advertising, Uncategorized

The Gold Lion Paradox

Let me start by posing a question, a little thought experiment if you will.

What if all advertising award shows were shut down just for next year? How would you plan on demonstrating the quality of your work as an agency or a marketing department?

If your goal isn’t to get a heap of Gold Lions, what would it be?

Now park that for second while I explain myself.

I have nothing against Cannes, this isn’t one of those posts. In fact I think the ‘Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity’ as it’s officially now called is a very, very good thing.

The majority of people that work in the advertising industry work bloody hard and we deserve the opportunity to indulge in some self-congratulation.

I’d even go as far as saying I believe this comment from former Heineken USA CMO, Christian McMahan to be true:

“One thing people underestimate is how awards can serve as a tool to help clients defend their agency choices to other internal stakeholders. Everyone wants to be with a winner. In the absence of experience or the depth of knowledge to rationalise a choice, knowing that an agency has been consistently recognised for the quality of their work can be an important data point that some clients rely on in their decision making process”.

It is however starting to get all a bit silly. Our penchant for Lions of the Golden kind is not only distorting reality, it’s actually making us behave irrationally.

Last year it was all about the alleged block voting by the networks

This year it’s big media agencies trying to claim as many as 30 awards even though they didn’t enter the things and weren’t listed on the original entries.

Just because it was pumped through a trading platform I’m not sure it warrants an award, let alone 30.

Then there’s the ‘scamvertising’ – ads made specifically to win awards at Cannes.

As an industry let’s be honest with ourselves. Awards shows are becoming a bit of a joke, and they are actually stopping us from being even more creative.

Stopping us from creating the best communications that really matter and genuinely makes things happen.

But going back to the question. How would you plan on demonstrating the quality of your work as an agency or a marketing department if there weren’t any advertising award shows next year?

Perhaps you would put a man into space like Red Bull. Which incidentally didn’t enter it into Cannes for this very reason.

“The company (Red Bull) doesn’t enter the Cannes Lions–focusing instead on shows like the Sports Emmys, where they feel the content belongs”

 Via Fast Company

How many of those brands and agencies that won at Cannes, also entered them into anything more related to the industry they are in or the problem they are trying to solve. Very few I’d imagine.

Would the cute animation Dumb ways to die win an award in global transport safety? I doubt it.

So whilst I don’t begrudge award shows, I worry it’s stopping us from having more ambitious goals for the work we do and the recognition we receive as a result.

It feels all quite shallow. Unlike Sexy Goals:

“Sexy goals are goals that are interesting, provocative and desirable—at least to you. It doesn’t matter what others think”

Essentially I’d much rather brands and agencies aimed for sexier goals, similar to Red Bull rather than Gold Lions.


The fallacy of illusory simple goals

So I’m half way through Al Gore’s exceptionally well researched book ‘The Future’ and one of the many, many issues he talks about is the problem with measuring progress through objectives such as GDP, that in his words are ‘illusory in their simplicity’.

Now I’m not an economist, sociologist or any other kind of ‘ist’ for that matter, but when you think about it GDP is a ridiculously stupid measurement to have driving the World forward.

It’s essentially a relatively easily tracked number relating to how much stuff a Country can sell in order to give confidence, or more accurately the illusion that it’s progressing.

This metric that has almost no reflection on anything that’s a genuine signal of good, sustainable progress such as employment, debt, equality, health, crime, education, happiness or the environment to name a few.

Not only are goals like GDP too simplistic and misleading, they ultimately obstruct you from understanding the real picture. Admittedly in the case of GDP that is exactly what Governments, banks and corporations want.

GDP can in essence go up whilst many of the important things mentioned above go to shit. In many Countries such as UK, US this is in fact the case.

If you then accept that a silly goal like GDP has such a destructive influence on many complex economies around the World, it’s also fair to say that the same is true in terms of the way we measure the health of brands and the effectiveness of communications.

Sales, awareness, reach, even twaddle like brand love is just a few examples of the illusory simple objectives that drive decisions everyday, create homogenous brands and fail to really help create sustainable businesses that are less reliant on advertising spend.

In John Kay’s book Obliquity he makes a very good point that rather paradoxically states our goals are often best met indirectly.

 “Obliquity is necessary because we live in an world of uncertainty and complexity; the problems we encounter aren’t always clear – and we often can’t pinpoint what our goals are anyway; circumstances change; people change – and are infuriatingly hard to predict; and direct approaches are often arrogant and unimaginative”

Then there is all that chatter about conscious capitalism which I do believe is long over due, but let’s be honest it’s not just about being good corporate citizens, it’s about being a smarter in where we need to aim. I’m pretty sure the marketing boardroom has rewired us to fundamentally revert to the most direct and simplistic goals in the quest for quarterly capitalism, or perhaps its organisations and people with the vested interests in it being that way that’s the problem.

Either way, there must be plenty of other ways of measuring progress? I particularly like Added Value’s new methodology into what it’s calling Cultural Traction. Surely this is a more helpful goal than direct sales, reach and awareness? Maybe not for bog paper but it’s a better starting point.

Even big organising visions such as Google’s relating to information and its focus on ensuring that all product decisions made ultimately have to benefit the user. The fact that Google has kept advertising off its homepage for its entire lifetime is a testament to both of those. Many big brands with shareholders will obviously say they have these but very few really treat them as anything more than slogans in ads.

Humans are funny things and marketers are no different. Our almost pathological pursuit of shallow and unhelpful goals that are essentially meaningless is not only destructive, it stops us from really doing things that matter.

Advertising, Uncategorized

Opposites Attract. Why persevering with conflicting concepts is a good thing.

Have you ever noticed that a lot of people, not just those that work in marketing, find it really hard to act on two seemingly conflicting thoughts at the same time?

A couple examples of this would be broad industry concepts like brand building and direct response, or perhaps TV advertising and social media.

That’s why you end up with big passive, expensive ads that supposedly ‘build brands’ at one end of the scale or down and dirty price led ads that apparently drive sales at the other.

Very rarely do you see an awful lot in between. It’s not unique to marketers either – it’s an inherent human trait.

We love to think of things as being ‘this OR that’, rather than ‘this AND that’. The list is endless:

  • Black or white
  • Masculine or feminine
  • Awareness or engagement
  • Rational or emotional
  • Big budgets or too small budgets
  • Low culture or high culture

In many respects it’s those people that are able to hold two opposing or unfamiliar thoughts in their head at the same time that are arguably the most creative problem solvers.

In The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin, he references Steve Jobs who was able to ensure that both function and form were (I use the past tense intentionally, and not just because of his passing) of equal importance.

Another example would be Dietrich Mateschitz, one of the gents behind Red Bull. I’m assuming at some point in time, either Dietrich or someone close to him, had the bright idea to make the business bigger than a soft drink.

Not many people would be able to battle with the logical part of their brain and turn a soft drink into an extreme sports media company. You might think that it makes perfect sense now, but that’s purely because of hindsight.

Trust me, there are very few people in marketing or advertising agencies that are able to operate in this way.

We also under estimate the people that experience our brands. Humans have a much better mental capacity than we often give them credit for. Quite often it’s the recombination of two or more concepts that make a brand or communication interesting.

Every single day I hear the words ‘keep it simple’ being muttered. I do of course agree with this, but only up to a point.

My issue is that people use this statement as an excuse. It makes life easier. It saves head hours and therefore money. The result is that the communication becomes too simple, to the point of being dull. In the words of Albert Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible. But not simpler”.

This is also one of the biggest differences I find working with people from traditional broadcast backgrounds and those that work in digital. The former aren’t used to trying to communicate more than one thing, whilst the latter do often make things far too complicated. As with much of life – the truth is somewhere in between.

Love them or loath Gangnam Style or the Harlem Shake, they are great examples of a mish mash multiple bits rolled into one.

Take these other examples of communications. In many instances they are opposing thoughts

Popular music videos and low budgetsOK Go.

Brand building and sales driving – Art Series Hotel Overstay Check Out. (Disclaimer, this is from the minds of my colleagues Naked)

Television and social mediaCoca-Cola Super Bowl Polar Bears

Rational and emotional – Old Spice – The man your man could smell like

So the next time you feel like you have a choice to make, perhaps you don’t. Maybe you should in fact be doing both. It could even be possible that’s it’s critical you do.


The 4 Ps of marketing are far from dead, they’re coming of age

I know what you might be thinking. What is this dude on about, the 4Ps were invented in 1960, nothing from 1960 could be relevant today.
Some others may also be thinking: “That’s like well old and like so not new. It doesn’t like talk about participation or engagement, or engaging participation. There is like not even a mention of influencing the influencers on your Twitface, or mummy bloggers. Not to mention the lack of pivoting on your bootstraps in an agile lean start up”.
Let’s be honest people that work in marketing talk a lot of shite and seem to have a rather un-nerving penchant for bagging anything that is old and anything that they didn’t think of  - the poor old 4 Ps of marketing is one of them.
But out of all the markting models and frameworks of yesteryear, the 4Ps is probably one of the only ones that has stood the test of time. In fact it has never been more important and has potentially really come of age. How you go about it has simply changed.
Now whilst I’m sure you know it, product, price, place and promotion, I doubt you really do it in its totality. Although I try, I certainly don’t. Half the problem is that organisations have marketing actually split across multiple departments meaning real innovation just can’t happen. 
Over the last 30 years a few things have happened that has made life in marketing more complicated than it has to be.
The main culprit is the the emphasis on the promotional ‘P’. Promotion became the hero because it was cheaper, easier and more effective to do than the others. In essence promotion became known as marketing as that’s what most people were employed to do.
Still to this day most people that say they work in marketing (at least in agency land) have little influence on making transformative product changes, the place and way in which it’s sold, and the financial model that underpins it.
So essentially most people that say they work in marketing really only work in promotion – and that’s fine, because whilst it’s changing, it’s far from dead.
Unfortunately this has led to people saying stupid things like the 4Ps are dead, instead we need the 7 Es, the 4Es or the 7Cs. It’s just unhelpful and naive. It proves you look at the industry as an advertiser not a marketer. I don’t believe brands need as many of these people as they used to.
Then there are the product people, such as this guy on Fast Company, who believes it’s only about the product. Apparently you don’t need care about anything else. 
For his benefit let’s start on promotion
Promotion isn’t and has never been just about ad campaigns, it’s just where most of the money has been spent in recent history.
In reference to the Fast Company article above, Google might have only recently created ad campaigns to grow further and protect share, but they still promoted it at launch. They didn’t just flick an Internet switch and it suddenly became the world’s largest search engine – they used other ways.
Neither did Facebook- it was promoted through Universities and their databases. Zara uses its high street stores, PR and word of mouth to promote its brand.
Promotion is alive and well. It’s how we define and do it that’s knackered.
On product
I do however believe that making better products that people genuinely want and value is the best form of promotion at the moment.
There is more stuff in the world than we will ever really need. Most of which is crap or at best average, as companies continue to find ways to take costs out of the product.
People only have a certain amount of money to spend and they will only spend it products that are good.
Making better stuff is really, really important.
You can’t get away with backing a dog of a product with huge ad spend and genuinely expect it to work.
On place
The Internet’s influence on where and how a product is sold has undoubtedly been the most disruptive change in industry, even more so than just advertising.
You only have to look at finance, retail, education, books and music to name a few industries that have innovated by redefining the place in which it’s sold – putting many brands out of business at the same time
It’s highly likely that the norm will be to no longer own our music in a few years. We will simply license it or stream it when we want it.
Will we have to spend thousands on University fees when I can learn it online for a fraction of the price? 
Finding an innovative way to distribute your product has the potential to redefine your business model and your industry.
On price
Developing innovative financial models that are more attractive to people again has been integral at disrupting industries. 
The economies of scale and reduction in costs that online retailing provides is an obvious influence on price, but monthly subscription services to access music and even cars are just two more interesting examples.
Thinking about financial models as innovation isn’t a familiar concept, but it needs to be.
So if you think the 4 Ps are dead you probably don’t really work in marketing. Carry on with your participatory engagement thing that nobody really participates and engages with. Spend all your time and money creating a product that nobody finds or is willing to pay for.
Marketing and the 4Ps aren’t dead, you just don’y really have the imagination to make it better.

On 2011: Every time someone says engagement a fairy dies

I blogged a rather paltry 11 times in total last year, don’t feel bad, I had better things to do. 

But to be honest, aside from starting work at Naked and getting married I blame advertising and planning really.  It doesn’t feel like 2011 was as good as it should’ve been for the industry, progress made, but a bit on the slow side. In fact to quote a bit of Dickens:

“IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only”.

So to get me motivated this year (albeit it negatively) here are my reflections on 2011:

 The language is still shit. Did you know every time someone says engagement or participation a fairy dies? We also need a wider range of verbs in marketing.

We still didn’t realise that a lot of stuff touted as new i.e. participation (a fairy didn’t die unless you are reading this out loud) is in fact old. It’s always been inherent in us and been happening pre-Dickens.

We keep making words up to make us sound clever or create some headlines. Good to see the first one for 2012. Ergopsychonomics. (Again making something old sound new in the process).

People kept telling me there was only one way of marketing and that something else was dead. I should have put this at number 1 to be honest. The world would be boring and very uncompetitive if there was only one-way of doing things. Oh yeah you’re right, it is…but the point is it shouldn’t be. 

We still keep hanging on to the past. OK people are watching more TV than ever before but it doesn’t mean anything. It’s the wrong question. It still doesn’t mean they are watching your ad, it doesn’t mean they care. Jees, we still spend $ billions on TV based on ratings from a 1,000 set top boxes. Technology I might add that cannot tell if people are putting the kettle on, having a dump or using their smartphone to do a multitude of things whilst your ad is on.

Last but not least we keep mistaking what is right for what is easy. 

Anyway…onwards and upwards. Here’s to a cooler more interesting industry 2012


Advertising, Business, Communications, Digital, Marketing, Social Media

Everything is advertising

Jess Greenwood at the recent Circus Festival brilliantly summed up how I feel these days by saying that everything is essentially advertising. Not just a TVC, but every single interaction with a customer should be treated as an opportunity to advertise in the truest sense of the word. A case in point.

Then I came across this interview with Johnny Vulkan of Anomaly where he talks about something I’ve mentioned here before. Marketing isn’t just about the promotion. There are three other forgotten Ps we should be considering as advertising. Promotion has kind of become like crack to brands and agencies, but we are undoubtedly starting to see a shift to the other stuff.

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.

Advertising, Communications, Product innovation, Technology

Is a good product the new advertising?

I can’t remember where I recently read a quote saying something along the lines of advertising now being a tactic used to address defects in a product (if it’s you let me know, I’ll give you a HT).

But it’s true, with the exception of leading brands the majority of categories essentially tell people the opposite of what the desired audience believes. From finance to automotive, brands have spent the last few decades generally asking people questions like: “What’s your issue with said brand and/or category?” Then they spend stacks developing ads that address the said ‘insight’. If they’re marginally smarter they will create a helpful online tool or cool piece of content that is intended to make people forget about the problem in the first place. Why? Because it’s much cheaper and quicker than addressing the actual problem with the product.

This Adage article highlights the trend of marketers taking money out of product development and ploughing it into advertising at the expensive of the product quality.

“For decades, the focus of many companies has been taking cost out of their products, often to invest in marketing and always to increase profit.

“It all raises the question of whether efforts to cut production costs have gone too far and whether marketers would be better off putting more money back into quality control — even if it means spending less on marketing”.

I believe we have gone back to the days where the strongest brand survives. The best products will generate the most conversations and therefore the most sales. In today’s networked economy it’s no longer possible to get away with an average product that has its cracks covered up by half decent advertising.

Being more optimistic, the rules are now slightly different. We are seeing product and marketing essentially becoming one in the same thing. Technology increasingly allows us to not only improve the product but do it in a way that’s actually networked. Think Nike Grid, Visa’s Right Cliq, iTunes Ping, Starbucks and Foursquare to name a few.

Advertising, Communications, Marketing, Uncategorized

Have brands forgotten how communication works?

I’ve long held the belief that marketing, when in the right hands, is a genuinely exciting industry to work in. And without sounding too lofty, I also think it makes the world a better place.

However in the wrong hands it’s anti – social, shouty, samey, artificial, inefficient and in many instances misleading.

To be honest, marketing’s main problem is that it’s forgotten how communication works. How and why do people communicate? How do people obtain value from the things we develop? Products, brands, advertising, social media or otherwise.

It’s evolved into an unnecessarily complex system with rules, beliefs, conventions, layers and many unhelpful and irrational motivations. Many of which have no relation to how people communicate and their relationship with brands.

I’m optimistic though. There is a bubbling under current of common sense and perhaps there is a straw about to break the marketing camel’s back. I hope so.

First Faris sparked some debate with this post about all market research being wrong. The headlines being 1) we don’t know why we do what we do. So why ask them, you’ll just be led up the garden path. Then 2) the gulf between claimed attitudes and actual behaviour is vast.

Then BBH Labs (an increasingly great agency blog) challenged that the reason we misuse our metrics is because of cultural issues that marketing departments and agencies have developed over time.

Finally Umair Haque summed it all up by stating ‘Marketing can do better’. Essentially Umair questions why the fundamental assumptions of marketing haven’t changed for decades.

I feel a series of posts brewing. Something about ‘it’s how we communicate stupid’.