The dominance of the “Visual Web” may herald a new era in human communication.

April 17th, 2015

Nicola Mendelsohn of Facebook, speaking at last month’s Guardian Changing Media Summit, where she was described as the “most powerful media figure” in Europe, laid out the company’s vision for an “immersive, visual based web that makes communications easier in an increasingly frantic world”.


Marketing Magazine said that Nicola claimed that the growth of “seemingly trivial communications such as cartoon stickers had serious implications for brands”.  Referring to the Despicable Me 2 sticker partnership where minions stickers were shared over 2 billion times she said “that’s 2 billion instances of people using brands to express emotions with friends” and called them a modern version of hieroglyphics that crosses language and borders.


Laporoscopic chief surgeon and writer Leonard Shlain would thoroughly approve that the “most powerful media woman in Europe” was welcoming in a new era.  An era that he has predicted since the publication of his book “The Alphabet versus the Goddess” in 1998 – the year of Google’s birth and just 6 years before Zuckerberg gave us Facebook.


Shlain’s idea is that largely words are masculine and images are feminine.  His enthralling argument is that the advent of literacy reinforced the brain’s analytical part – catalysed its development.  This part of the brain is linear, abstract and predominantly masculine.  This was at the expense of the other older parts of the brain which are holistic, concrete, visual and feminine.  This made the balance between men and women shift, initiating – thousands of years ago – the disappearance of goddess worship, the abhorrence of images, the decline of women’s social and political status and “a long reign of patriarchy and misogyny”.


It is certainly true that for millennia information and power were in the hands of the literate (or their masters) – who for most of the last three thousand years have been men.  Only in the second half of the last century did television mean that you could know a broad range of stuff without reading about them.  He says “Since WW2, the technologies of information transfer have transformed the foundations of world culture, and in the process, helped it balance feminine and masculine.  Iconic information proliferating through the use of television, computers… the internet have enhanced, and will continue to enhance, the positions in society of images, women’s rights.


The new season of Mad Men opens with a vignette of just how seriously ad men took ad women in the 1970s when Peggy and Joan get humiliated in a meeting by suits from the parent agency.  At all of the conferences last month, a key question raised was the minority of women on stage.  Fingers have been pointed this month at the 2015 Circulo Creativo USH ideas jury without a single woman judge.


A panel without women might be a very definition of a 1st world problem.   It obviously pales into insignificance with continuing violence to women across the globe.  However anyway you consider the situation in the first world there is still a long way to go.  I hope Shlain and Mendelsohn are both right and that the Visual Web accelerates innate positivity to gender equality.






“Um, excuse me but the client would like to see him with his top off”

April 13th, 2015

The first and only casting session I ever attended was for the Ajax Houseproud Hunk.  I’d been involved in every stage of the pitch and idea.  The product was for a new cleaning variant that meant that there was no residue after you sprayed your kitchen surface and wiped – there was no need to wipe again with a wet cloth.

The agency that we were pitching with showed us early ideas that involved what mums and housewives could do with the time saved from the second wipe.  As I remember it they including learning French or playing a round of golf.

I was fresh from doing some research into mums in the UK.  I’d been out and asked them what was going on, both those only working in the home and those with full and part time jobs.  One thing was clear.  They were not going to learn French in the time they saved wiping a surface.  Indeed many of them already were saving that notional time because they didn’t do a second wipe.  (Who does?)

But the product benefit would sell product and an ad campaign would ensure that the product had shelf room.  After I explained my problem with the ad concept to the rest of the team the creative director asked me a straight question.  “What is it that housewives do want then?”

“For someone else, anyone else, to do the cleaning”.

From this came the idea of the House proud Hunk.  The ad showed a hunk (obviously) cleaning someone’s kitchen with the slogan “Save him time cleaning – get him new Ajax!”.

I got to go along to the casting session, where the client asked me in a whisper please to ask the producers if the models auditioning could please take their shirts off.

Well, years later, once again we seem to have gone backwards : Cleaning ads no longer feature fantasy hunks doing the housework for hard pressed housewives but housewives dancing with joy after cleaning their own floors or scouring the house to be sure to be ready for their “prince”.

NewsUK’s recent poll that says that the ad industry is “still portraying women in subservient roles while men are depicted as powerful”.

Who cares if the advertising is effective at selling stuff?  Well women care for a start.  One of the most notable points in my research was that women notice how they are depicted and feel criticised and judged by it much more than men do.  Reflecting women’s real roles in life will lead to a competitive advantage versus other brands, so if I was writing ads that’s what I would do.  As Richard Huntington, CSO at Saatchi said recently of new research for Mumsnet: “Advertisers are still stuck in the rut of seeing mums in the role of cook, cleaner and nurse – while dad has fun playing outside and getting messy with his kids. We need to focus less on the drudgery, if we are to reflect the reality of modern mothers.”






TV and Social are the perfect marriage – is NetFlix set to break them up ?

April 13th, 2015

As Thinkbox have often pointed out to us we love talking about TV.  TV shows are still cultural glue for the nation.  Against all doom laden predictions from a decade ago we are still watching lots of TV and we love to talk about it.  Thinkbox write : “The advent of multi-screening has seen TV become even more magnetic. Many of us now share a virtual sofa with the world and having a second screen to hand enables us to give live, online reaction to TV via social media; uploading pastiches to YouTube, joining TV-related Facebook groups, and airing opinions on Twitter.”

Event TV is a still a growth category.  As Nick Burcher wrote in “Paid, Owned, Earned” : “TV show that reach mass audiences are even more important, especially live-event TV like American Idol, The X-Factor or sports coverage, where there is a social imperative to watch the action as it happens”.

If you miss the live show, you miss the best of the chat.  There are some shows that I find barely of interest without accompanying tweets.  But unmissable with Twitter.

I have bonded with semi-strangers because we share an opinion of the Dowager Duchess on Downton.  I have judged others because they didn’t warm to a favourite Great British Bake Off contestant.

We like talking TV, online or in real life, because TV crosses all kinds of age and social divides.  It enables small talk for even the most socially inept and shy.

Is Netflix out to ruin this ?  Time delayed viewing has been fine.  I’ve gone back to conversations with people about Fortitude when I have caught up with my catch up TV (thanks Andrew D for being there for me on this one).  But as blogger Rex Sorgatz eloquently points out Netflix are ruining TV chat by releasing the whole series in one lump.  There’s no flow anymore.  I can’t binge watch – I’m too busy and anyway it makes me feel slightly ill.  So there are shows that I have totally missed out on as far as buzz is concerned.  And now it seems like there is not much point in catching up.

As Sorgatz says “If no-one can talk about House of Cards, did it even happen ?”   He doesn’t think that releasing the whole series in one go does anything for anyone especially TV bloggers : ” It is not a good idea and people do not love it. Breaking the schedule broke how we talk about television. Television writers and recappers, in particular, are flummoxed about how to publish their writing — all at once? in groups of episodes? at all?”

Great stories are at the heart of why we love TV.  The drama of a great series of Big Brother matches the drama of a Broadchurch or of Hamlet.  I think the same emotion links much great TV whether it is classical drama, a soap, a reality show or sport.  We are drawn to seeing how people behave under pressure.  We love it when their true characters shine through.

And we love to share it.  We need those moments to make the most of our love of Telly.  The Netflix business model may be distinctive but it does nothing for bringing people together.




Why can’t politicians treat us like intelligent adults ?

March 27th, 2015

As I write this the latest salvo in the great British TV election debate saga is a thorough telling off from Nick Clegg.


Clegg’s accused the PM of “faffing”.  He said “Honestly my head is spinning with all the proposals and counter proposals, and the insults and the counter insults.”  Poor Mr Clegg. His comments that this political soap opera has proved too much for him might not be the best qualification for running the country but let’s brush over that point.  As far as most of us are concerned of course the bickering over the debates feels like a lot of nonsense doesn’t it?


This is now joined as a story by “Kitchengate”: Milliband accused of lacking authenticity because he was photographed in his second kitchen and not his main, luxurious, rich person’s kitchen.


The main parties are currently neck and neck in the polls.  Yet there is no sign that any of the main candidates can really strike the right chord with the public.


I think that there’s a continuing reason for this and it is an anachronistic approach to connecting with voters.  Political parties largely still talk down to them and everything they say is layered with spin.

This is part of a continuing denial by politicians and their advisors to acknowledge the change in the media since the last century, or even indeed since the last election.


In 2007 commentator and journalist Andrew Neil spoke at our client conference on the change in media from well behaved and controllable outlets in the last century, with specific deadlines (the News at Ten just went out at 10pm, and the newspapers had deadlines for the front page) to 24 hour rolling news and commentary.  He said that in his experience back then everyone was struggling to adjust, to move away from the attitude of “You’ve never had it so good” that epitomised the last century ; in transactional analysis terms one of adult to child.


In my first book “Tell the truth, honesty is your most powerful marketing tool” I examined how the internet and social revolution compels brands to open themselves up to the consumer and to move away from spin towards authenticity, to the brand truth. The brands that have found it more difficult to do this are those where the brand spin doesn’t enhance the brand truth but instead distorts it or covers it up.  Those brands cannot bear to cede some control to the consumer.


The current exchange over the TV debates or the flurry of Kitchengate feels like this to me.  Not a question of policy or politics but a desire to remain in control.  In all honesty, it doesn’t feel very much like modern Britain.





Where’s all that content going to come from?

March 20th, 2015

Content is a growth industry.  Speaking recently to the Sunday Times ITV’s Adam Crozier said “The demand for content has never been higher.  It’s a $50bn market globally growing at 5-6% a year.  Whether you started life as a fixed telephony company, a mobile provider or an Internet company what differentiates you is what content you have on your service.”


Where’s all that content going to come from?


There was a discussion at Festival of Media a couple of years ago about whether it was a brand’s job to make content.  I’ll admit that I didn’t really take to this language particularly.  Call me oldfashioned but i think that a brand’s job is to sell stuff primarily.   But without a shadow of a doubt branded content has a role to play in driving sales.  We don’t just consider advertising with all its strengths and weaknesses as the alpha and omega of the media plan.   A comms plan can be more effective when it includes branded content as long as we are clear about how paid owned and earned work together and so long as we make sure that it is accountable.


At a recent debate at the RTS chaired by Claire Beale the possibilities of branded content were debated.  Claire pointed out that of course TV was funded originally by branded content.  Soaps are called soaps because they were funded by soap manufacturers originally.  She played a Flintstones episode with cigarette endorsement that probably helps to explain why on so many levels the UK has never allowed such blatant association of brands and TV programmes.  Do watch it – it works on so many levels !


I made it clear that we are still massive believers in advertising of course, but that every answer to a client brief does now consider the role of content in addition to or instead of advertising.


Producing branded content is still not as simple as it could and should be.  There a fewer benchmarks in the public arena and bigger promises made about videos “going viral”.  There are more disappointed branded content managers out there than there should be.  Basing your entire campaign on earned media alone is like betting your budget according to the horse racing tips on the wireless.


Tiffany Rolfe, CCO at co-collective has blogged some comments overheard at a judging panel. They’re all worth bearing in mind as content comes to have a well deserved place on the media plan.  They include :


“Its like they made this for someone in prison” ie who can’t escape.  Just because you can go for longer than 30 seconds doesn’t mean you should.


“Look a video without a hashtag!” how unusual – there’s only so many hashtags even a millennial can take.


“i’ll never get that 3 minutes back”


On a more positive note : laughter and tears – if you can tap into a universal human emotion you are on to a winner.