Generation Brexit

August 23rd, 2016

brexit2016 is 25 years on from the publication of Douglas Coupland’s iconic novel Generation X.  So that generation, the generation of young people, just entering the workplace in 1991 and characterised by Coupland as doomed with lousy jobs and a general attitude of bitter cynicism,  is all grown up now and in fact running business and the media.

Coupland coined the term Gen X because he felt that there was a seismic difference between that cohort and the Baby Boomers.  Since Gen X we’ve had Gen Y, the Millennials (18-34s) and now the Centennials (born around 2000).

Next to come, in Britain at least, will be Gen Brexit.  Can we speculate how the events of the last few months will change the nature of young people who will grow up in the early years of the UK negotiating its exit from the EU?

Gen Brexit are those who were too young to vote in the referendum, but whose lives will be materially affected by the decisions of those who could and did vote on June 23rd.

The differences between generations can be categorised into two buckets: economic and emotional.

Economic data is empirical.  We can measure how the post war generations suffered or benefitted from their local circumstances.  Emotional mood is harder to characterise.  Unless you listen out for it.

Baby Boomers – the children of the post war years (that’s World War 2) – experienced seismic change growing up – with a sound track in popular music that has arguably never been matched for impact: The Beatles, Woodstock, Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder.

Gen X-ers, on the other hand, had grunge as their soundtrack: Smashing Pumpkins, Pearljam and Nirvana . “Here we are now, entertain us, I feel stupid and contagious”, the lyrics to Nirvana hit Smells like Teen Spirit, pretty much sums up the tone of Generation X and was released the same year as Coupland’s book.

Economic predictions are polarised in Britain at the moment.  The nation is divided.  Yet there is a choice now for British youth emotionally between pragmatic optimism and negative despair which will set the tone of voice for the soundtrack for this generation – Gen Brexit.

My prediction is that we will witness a step-change in creativity in music in the next generation.

Difficult turbulent times make for good creative initiatives.

Heavy metal was born from the crash of the industrial revolution.  The biggest bands of this genre were cradled in the despair of the industrial midlands.  Black Sabbath’s legendary guitarist Tony Iommi was in a dead end job in a dead end industry when he lost the tips of two fingers in an industrial accident at work in a sheet metal factory, and reinvented himself as a guitar player.  Some people say that you can hear the sounds of that factory resonate throughout Sabbath’s music.

Punk was a response to the biggest crisis in faith in authority and politics that the UK had seen up to that point.  Singer John Lydon describes the environment the Sex Pistols were born out of: “Early Seventies Britain was a very depressing place. It was completely run-down with trash on the streets, and total unemployment—just about everybody was on strike. Everybody was brought up with an education system that told you point blank that if you came from the wrong side of the tracks…then you had no hope in hell and no career prospects at all.”

There’s one thing for sure about the next decade in Britain.  There’s more change to come.  Turn and face the strange.  Turn and face the strain.  Times might be hard for Gen Brexit, but their soundtrack will be wonderful.












Attachment Reminder: You may have forgotten to attach a file. Don’t send? Send anyway?

August 1st, 2016

attachThere’s a robot reading our emails.  It’s there for our own protection.  After all who wants to have to resend an email when they’ve forgotten to actually attach the promised document?  It is our little virtual personal assistant.  This notification comes up if you write, in the body copy of the email on Outlook, “I’m attaching the relevant document,” but then fail to do so.  What brilliant use of technology.

Why does it still feel a bit creepy then?

Is it because of the potential for expansion from a very simple reminder of an avoidable mistake to censorship, or even punishment?  There’s a range of possibilities.

If for instance you get really angry with someone, and swear in the email, Outlook might politely suggest that you amend your language.  But would it, could it correct subtle sarcasm?

If you were angry, the very fact that Outlook corrected you might make you a) angrier or b) angry with Outlook instead.  The former makes the situation worse.   The latter diffuses the whole thing.

Could the robot reader become your conscience?  Supposing you fib about what you’re doing for example.  You may decline an evening appointment for a variety of not very good reasons.  You want a night in in front of the telly.  You find the company of the very important person you’re meant to be seeing really quite boring and while lunch is just 90 minutes, dinner could be 180 long long minutes or more.  You absolutely can’t drink for yet another evening in a row, and this is the kind of dinner where the wine is expensive and appreciating it is compulsory.  You do decline the invitation, but you say that you’re busy when in fact you’re dodging.  And Outlook says: “You may have forgotten that you are free that evening: Don’t send or Send anyway?”  Somehow, that makes the lie more blatant, for some people impossible.

General childishness.  You’ve used too many emojis for a business email.  Outlook may be useful in reminding you that you’re actually at work, and not on fb.  Being paid to be professional, and not smiley faced.

Well it is all about the algorithm.  Can a Microsoft robot be your conscience?  Can it go further and shock you into correct behaviour?

One British firm is pioneering technology to do exactly this.  Intelligent Environments has launched a platform which can link the Pavlok wristband, which delivers a 255 volt shock, to your bank account.  So if you overspend, or go below an agreed limit, the tech doesn’t just politely remind you not to, it shocks you.

Surely this is just a step on the continuum from the current polite reminder from Microsoft Outlook about attachments.

At the moment I don’t know how many of my emails Microsoft understands.  If I knew it was everything and all of them then I’d acclimatise.

So go ahead Outlook, and yes why not now Linked In.  Edit me, be my conscience, make sure I look good.  Yes even censor me.  I’m sure you would only have my best interest at heart.


A call for more to be done by our industry to represent people with disabilities

July 22nd, 2016

Scope_EndTheAwkward14We clearly still need a Glass Lion.

(The Cannes Glass Lion recognises work that implicitly or explicitly addresses issues of gender inequality or prejudice, through the conscious representation of gender in advertising.)

Of course we do.

It’s not enough.

We need more action.  We must all decide whether we think women should be depicted as Objects or not.   The Glass Lion is as necessary as it ever was.  The Glass Wall is still standing in the way of gender parity in agencies.

It’s not enough.

As far as representation of society is concerned the representation of women is not by any means the sole diversity issue that should concern us in communications thinking.

Millions of people in the UK sometimes feel patronised or ignored because they’re disabled.  Two thirds of us according to research conducted by charity Scope acknowledge that we don’t know what to do when we meet someone who’s disabled.  That we feel “awkward”.

Scope’s partnership with Channel 4 to “End the Awkward” was part of their ongoing campaign to highlight this.  Indeed Channel 4’s actions on the representation of disability, including creating and airing The Last Leg with Alex Brooker and their proud position as the channel for the Paralympics is exemplary.  Putting their media money where their mouth is with the £1m Superhumans Wanted competition shows how seriously they take the issue.

It’s not enough.

Every one of us has a role to play in making a difference in the representation of disabled people.

It’s easier to keep the status quo of course.

But in a closely related sector, the industry has made efforts to change.

Project Diamond would be a great example to follow.

Project Diamond is the effort of the Creative Diversity Network (BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4) to introduce a common diversity monitoring template for all programmes commissioned.  It enables detailed diversity statistics to be tracked and benchmarked.  It answer the question: “who’s on TV and who makes TV”.

It is as much about the incidental casting of disabled people as it is about hero-ing or championing disabled stars.

Which you don’t see much of in adverts.

Disabled people are under represented on our screens and in media in general.  Yet there is so much content being created now, so many of us have influence on what’s being made for consumers, consideration of casting a more diverse range of talent is only fair.

I asked a couple of CMOs about incidental casting of disabled people in advertising, and they suggested that it hasn’t ever been raised with them.  Are those responsible in content creation and advertising agencies considering this?  If not, then let’s put it on the agenda.

Project Diamond seems to be making a difference to what’s on our TV screens in terms of programming.  You’ll probably have noticed this if you watch British originated shows on TV.

Let’s adopt this idea for advertising and branded content.

Our head of MediaCom Beyond Advertising Tom Curtis has already committed that his whole team will “explore the incidental representation of disability in all relevant content projects.”

I’d like to propose that every head of creative/branded content/strategy similarly encourages their teams.

That every creative and content awards scheme takes account of the incidental casting of disabled people as a hygiene factor.

That Clearcast creates a code for their proportionate inclusion in the majority of an advertisers’ copy.

It’s still not enough, but it’s a start.







Turning old media around

July 11th, 2016

lisa bookNewsbrands have done well in the shortterm out of Brexit with sales and subs going up.  Consolidated sales are finally being considered for the medium.  Here’s a related world with potential other learnings for the category.

Printed book sales are up – are there lessons for printed magazines and newsbrands publishers?

Printed book sales are up for the first time in 4 years because of some very smart thinking and operational agility on the part of publishers.

Given that even the most optimistic pundits were predicting a long-term decline in the market only a few years ago, this defies expectations.

Are there lessons in keeping “old technology” alive that might be applicable to other media?

Factors contributing to the doom-mongering for books included:

Amazon’s dominance of the book trade which would drive independent bookshops out of the high street in the wake of record shops.

The e-book destroying the economics of printed books, because consumers would think that the price should be a fraction of the printed version.

Pirates destroying the book economy once it was predominantly digital?

The business world has turned into a giant computer game of Tetris for us all (challenges in different shapes and sizes just keep on coming.)  And book publishers are no exception.  We try and plan for a smooth strategy but agile tactics are crucial to survival.

And now it looks like book publishers haven’t just survived, they have maybe turned things around, for now at least.

Publishers are to be applauded for their innovative outlook.  Many, including the exemplary Harper Collins, have heritage to be proud of stretching back centuries, and are now tackling the issues of this century with the kind of bravery their founders would be proud of.

I recently talked to Stephen Page, ceo of Faber, about how the smaller, independent, book publishers have navigated their business Tetris.

His account of the turnaround has practices for change that all of us can learn from:

First get everyone together to discuss how to align best practice and unite in the face of turmoil.

In 2004 Page, together with other forward thinking independent publishers including Profile Books (the publishers of my own upcoming book The Glass Wall) spearheaded the creation of the Independent Alliance. The purpose was to put aside competitive difference to “share a common vision of editorial excellence, original, diverse publishing, innovation in marketing and commercial success.”

Secondly, support your distribution network.  If the bookshops had disappeared from the high street then that would have made the future of print much harder to salvage.  The Alliance supports independent booksellers in terms of special promotions, point of sale and author presence.

Thirdly try everything.  According to Page no innovation should go untested.  In 2007 Faber launched an Academy – a creative writing school, which represented a new revenue stream for the publishing house.  This gave the public what they wanted (consumer-centric), but broke absolutely with the traditions of the market place.  So what? Change is good.  Give the customer what they want.  Keep the customer satisfied.  (Courses available now for the next JK Rowlings out there amongst you.)

Page calls this “A riot of cross-dressing”; a colourful descriptor of everyone experimenting with new revenue streams from other sectors.  A riot which can seem remarkably slow to take place in some sectors of the media world.  Are some businesses still locked into traditional revenue streams, and in milking the last dregs out of them?

Despite doom-mongering, nothing is inevitable.

The fourth, and perhaps most crucial point, is to have a positive outlook.  Don’t worry about being wrong, or making mistakes.  Have the courage to try things that might seem too disruptive to the status quo.  These may be the very things that save your business.  If you don’t self-disrupt, then the disruptors from outside your business will destroy you.








July 4th, 2016

wno“It’s kinda messed up”


“It’s like gross to see”


“I don’t like seeing that”


“Cover your eyes, cover your eyes”


These are the reactions of a bunch of kids when shown ads featuring the objectification of women according to Madonna Badger of the campaign:  Women not Objects.  A campaign directed at you, working in media, marketing and advertising.

Badger, a New York Creative Director, has created a video about the harm this does to young women which was shortlisted, though not awarded, in the Glass Lion category.  The quotations above come from this related video.  Watch them both, and if you agree, sign her petition.


The Women not Objects mission is a simple one, and one that we can all, if we choose, get behind, to end the objectification in advertising and the harm that it causes.  To ensure girls truly understand that their worth is not their weight, their looks or their body parts, but who they are, what they say and what they can do.


We’re born male or female (mostly).  But it is culture and society that teaches us how we are meant to behave.  If children are surrounded by images that show submissive behaviour from women then we shouldn’t be surprised if girls grow up lacking the techniques to be as assertive as men.


Badger’s campaign has four criteria to judge a campaign.  1. Is the women being used as a prop – does she have a choice or a voice or has she been reduced to a thing?  2. Is she plastic – has she been retouched beyond what’s humanly possible? 3. Can we only see her body parts? (any sign of a face?) 4. How would you feel is that woman was your mother, daughter, sister, co-worker, you?


Madeleine DiNonno, from the Geena Davis Institute, says that the representation of women is going backwards, especially in newer media channels, digital and social.


The Institute has amassed an enormous body of research on gender in entertainment, spanning more than 20 years.


In the latest findings from the institute covering a huge range of video, if men are speaking on camera, then of course the camera is focussed on them.  If women are speaking, the focus is often predominantly still on the men listening to them.  The research counts the background presence of men and women in incidental casting.  Women are present less than 20%.


This is nothing new.  In the 1970s Marianne Wex, a German photographer, published a collection of over 5000 images of men and women photographed in public spaces.  They show people waiting for trains, sitting in public.  The women take up as little space as possible.  They make themselves small, narrow, harmless.  Men on the other hand take up as much space as possible, sitting in what Wex called the “proffering” position, familiar to anyone on a crowded train.  Legs are thrown wide apart, the crotch is “proffered”, feet point outward and extend.


It’s easy to conclude which is the dominant gender.


The sooner we can rid the screens and the streets and the pages of magazines and newspapers of objectifying and demeaning images of women,  the sooner we’ll achieve change for our daughters, sisters and colleagues, change that will mean that they can take up as much space in public as men.


Without a bigger proportion of women in senior jobs in marketing, media and advertising this change will be slow to be established.  Several commentators have pointed out that until women are dictating the media agenda from the top, change will be slow to happen.


My next book, The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work, is published in September to fix this, to address the gender lack of balance with advice for women and for business.