Everyone seems to be raining on Cannes. Not me – an optimistic take on June 2019

July 9th, 2019

Cannes-2019-750x417pxLet’s be positive.

Conrad Hilton said: “Travel bridges cultures and promotes peace in the world”.  Some people are pointing to Cannes this year as a harbinger of doom.  Actually, it was the very opposite.

Whilst it would be oversimplistic to suggest that the ad festival promoted world peace, the general message of the week was more about solutions and realistic situational analysis than it was about problems and existential crisis for a change this year.

Yes, the IPA pointed out that there is a lack of correlation between effectiveness and creative winners.  Yet a strategy panel of CSOs that convened later in the week pointed out that this reflected the nature of the entrants to the Effectiveness Awards rather than a crisis of creativity.  And called for a stepchange in diversity of types of work for the 2020 awards.

The sessions at the Palais ranged far and wide as always with some of my colleagues reporting highlights including calls to dream big, flex business models to be more agile and where appropriate to personalise.  From AR to XR – extended reality enabled by 5G.  There’s much more action (not just talk) on diversity and inclusion.  Undoing stereotypes is long overdue, and the Unstereotype Alliance is now making good ground.  This gives many people reasons to be cheerful.  Berta de Pablos, Mars Wrigley CCO set a refreshing tone of honesty by presenting the results of the Geena Davies institute’s analysis of how their advertising executions were doing.  Better than most, but not enough.  This honesty under the spotlight is inspirational.  She said: “”The best ads take on the responsibility to accurately reflect society. We hope that by releasing some of our findings from the institute, we can encourage the larger industry to prioritise the equitable inclusion and representation of women.”

Back at MediaCom’s suite a session hosted by Matt Mee (Global CSO) was dedicated to optimism.  Matt asked CMOs Janelle Anderson of American Airlines and Kellyn Smith Kenny CMO of Hilton Hotels, if they felt optimistic about anything.  The answer was a resounding yes.  Kellyn, who cited Conrad Hilton’s purpose, said that his pioneering spirit was contagious.  Yes, the sector has been disrupted, but that disruption has inspired the incumbents to new heights.  Janelle pointed out that budget airlines have opened the habit of flying up to many more people, and made the point that positivity was crucial to a business where if anything out of the airline’s control goes wrong (like a bird strike, or the weather), their passengers love to blame them.  However, “if something goes wrong, and our people help through that, and make the customer feel good, then that’s a win for the brand.”

The panel agreed that the role of CMO is to be an engine for growth and to champion healthy brands.  Kellyn said she believed that there had been more innovation in marketing in the past 7 years than in the previous 200, and marketers had never before had better tools for mining insights from data.  When I asked them for tips for navigating all this change they advised: “Get a coalition by your side”.

In light of this optimism the alarming news from the IPA and FT that there’s a big disconnect between the FT’s c-suite readership and any real understanding of how marketing works must be seen as an opportunity for development and education.

Reasons to be cheerful this year at Cannes, even if the path ahead is still very steep and rocky it looks like some light is beginning to dawn.

 

 

 

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Have you got a “Barney” ?

June 24th, 2019

ted“Have you met Ted?”

If you’re a fan of “How I met your mother”, you’ll recognise Barney’s catch phrase. As self-appointed wingman to friend Ted, he essentially chats up for him a series of women for dates.

Have you got a Barney in your life? For Ted, characterised as more shy and more self-effacing, Barney plays a crucial role in getting him connected. He’s Ted’s bro.

A wingman or woman can make a massive difference to your career (as well as your love life, which is out of the remit of this blog). When you hit a career blockage, have a bad meeting or sink beneath pressure, your wing-person can help you to regroup and move on.

They’ll be there for you, and cheer you up. And if you’re really lucky they’ll tell you some home truths about yourself.

In fact, if they don’t do this, they’re not actually doing their job properly. A work buddy is one thing. The person who you moan to about your boss being short with you, or who makes you a cup of tea when you’re flagging. The buddy will comfort you when you’re down, commiserate when you didn’t get a promotion, chat with you when you’re bored, cover for you when you’re late.

This is not a wing person. The wing person – or WP – plays a different role in your career. They will make connections for you and talk about you when you’re not there. They will create opportunities for you. They will be thrilled at your success, even if it sometimes is better than their own. A great WP thinks about you when you’re not around.

They push you out of your comfort zone.

They tell you what you got wrong.

They make suggestions about how you should change that they know you won’t want to hear.

They keep on at you about those changes, even if you tell them not to, because they care as much about your career potential as you do, and honestly, in my personal experience, sometimes they care more.

Listening to them and then acting on it is essential. It’s a big part of having a growth mindset, and that’s the mindset you need to succeed.

They are not just your cheer-leader, in proven fact they are much more important than this.

In an interesting experiment, Professor Serena Chen of the University of California, together with Juliana Breines from the University of Rhodes Island, worked with participants in 3 groups all of whom had been asked to name their biggest weakness. One set were asked to write themselves a letter talking about their weakness from a “compassionate and understanding” perspective. Another set were asked to write in terms of boosting their self-esteem – to focus on validating themselves rather than on that weakness. The third group were the control, and weren’t asked to do anything. Participants in the weaknesses seen with compassion group showed much more of a growth mindset, and were much more likely to agree that with hard work they could change than either of the other two sets. A follow up experiment showed that behaviour change was much more likely from people who experienced compassionate but clear understanding about what they’d got wrong, than from those who had been given unconditional approval.

Here’s how wingperson differs then from a buddy or even a cheerleader. They’ll point out your mistakes with kindness and compassion, and won’t let you get away with being stuck. Self-esteem by HBR’s analysis is over-rated. You need a wingman to make sure that you are really working on your weaknesses not just glossing over them. If you haven’t got one, find one. And as Barney also says, it never hurts to Suit Up.

 

 

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Join the campaign against the squishies

June 10th, 2019

ipa“A widespread promiscuous devotion to the untrue”

This is how best-selling writer Kurt Anderson describes post truth Trump’s America.  In his recent best-selling book Fantasyland he argues that regarding facts as optional is deep rooted and centuries old in his homeland.

His argument runs like this: The founding fathers fled an England that was too religiously tolerant for their beliefs and sought a new land where nobody would mock them for their delusions and dreams.  Creating new truths began in the 17th century and has never stopped.  Its no co-incidence, according to Anderson, that America produced Disneyland or that creationism is still popular.  Americans are great at fantasy.  Facts, he claims, are too often perceived as merely another version of the truth.  “America was the dreamworld creation of fantasist, some religious and some out to get rich quick, all with freakish appetite for the amazing.”  He is fearful of the consequences of this for the world.  A world where opinion is as valid as hard evidence.  Here’s one of Anderson’s more recent examples of this: ‘“Do you think that talking about millions of illegal votes is dangerous to this country without presenting the evidence? the anchor of ABC World News Tonight asked President Trump.  “No,” he replied, “not at all!  Not at all – because many people feel the same way that I do.”’

Are we, in the ad industry, ever in danger of confusing hard evidence and beliefs?

At 2018’s IPA Effectiveness Week conference Libby Child presented research into marketing effectiveness culture across the industry where over half the respondents rated the abilities of their organisations at 6 or less (out of 10).  Furthermore prevailing ‘Marketing Effectiveness Culture’ is short term in its focus. It is not yet the norm for it to be aligned across the whole company or for formal kpis to be shared across the board.  So sometimes budgets are spent against the more easily judged short term rather than in the long term in terms of brand health and for a sustainable business model.

There was a trend a few years ago about “the wisdom of the crowd”.  Surely if most people around you believed something then that would be better than the opinion of an elite group of experts?  This can be seen as part of a “Fantasyland” continuum; where someone hears what they would prefer to believe, and then is served social media feeds which reassuringly echo rather than challenge their views.

Every aspect of a comms plan must have a rationale, backed by evidence.  That evidence must be substantive and independent.  To make any decision because that’s where other brands are spending or on the basis of media owner information that is not third party verified may be entering the Fantasyland delusion.

There is always room for instinct, for gut feel and for making a decision because of belief in the potential of a media idea that is unproven yet.  But this should be done in the conscious knowledge that it is a valid test and experiment with proper accountable measurements.

Fantasyland can be dangerous.  Anderson calls out some opinion formers as “Squishies, people intellectually or temperamentally disinclined to tell people they’re full of shit when they are, who have lost their stomach for the fight against the multiplying and empowered Believers.”

The IPA Effectiveness movement stands out against the Squishies.  Now a global initiative it is dedicated to broadening the bank of knowledge from more brands and more disciplines.  As Convenor of the 2020 awards I’m hoping that more agencies than ever this year can find the time to enter to ensure the triumph of evidence based marketing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Brighton Rock: This year’s Media360 gave delegates plenty of ideas and arguments. 

May 28th, 2019

fink2Lord Finklestein OBE, columnist at The Times, opened his diagnosis of Brexit at the Media360 conference which I co-chaired this May, with an old Jewish joke.  A village matchmaker goes to a peasant family and says that she’s found a match for their son.  “What about the daughter of the Tsar?” she says.  “But there’s no way that the Tsar will agree that his daughter could marry a lowly peasant” the parents reply.  “But do you agree to the match?” asked the matchmaker.  “Of course” said the parents.  ‘Well then,” the matchmaker replied, “I’m half way there”.

Lord Finklestein was of the opinion that the deal for Brexit was no closer than the matchmaker’s marriage deal.  He described Britain as two nations, Leavia and Remainia.  One of the key problems was that politicians don’t understand how little people in general understand or even care about politics.

This problem of a lack of empathy with the public seemed to be echoed in a subsequent debate about building trust in advertising.  The panel was divided.  On one hand a campaign, educating the public about how their data was being used and why, was put forward as a solution.  On the other hand there was a strong feeling that education was meaningless if, as with politics, the public neither understand or care.  They just want the ad bombardment to stop.  Karen Fraser, MBE, head of strategy at Credos, showed footage from research on current reactions to advertising, after pointing out that trust was at an all time low.  Great ads were still talked about, and regarded as icebreakers for society.  But there was much more ambivalence about online advertising where one respondent said: “it’s hard to differentiate between ads and content online”.

In light of this ISBA’s initiative about ad bombardment is to be welcomed.  Direct Line Group’s marketing director Mark Evans explained that cutting down on excess frequency won’t just reduce waste which is a compelling argument for marketers with their CFOs.  It will also help with consumer trust.  A longer term view is necessary instead of jumping to satisfy short term metrics targets.

As an industry we are faced with shifting sands.  More change is to come.  Damian Collins MP, Chair of the DCMS Select Committee, was clear that the days of self regulation may be numbered as today’s media landscape poses very different problems from any in the past.  After dinner speaker Amol Rajan, media editor at the BBC, said that we are at a hinge moment in history, and described Zuckerberg as the Gutenberg of our days, though the changes now are fantastically accelerated compared to the impact of the printing press.  “We are, perhaps”, he said, paraphrasing the great Grace Jones, “slaves to the algorithm”.  Certainly, as Campaign’s global head of media Gideon Spanier writes, doing business these days demands new ideas, new ways of working and new behaviours.

It’s crucial to have empathy with the public, our ultimate customers.  Difficult as it is to really put yourself in another’s shoes, if you don’t at least try to do so then there’s very little hope of building brands for the long term in the digital economy.

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Alexa, I don’t think we’re on the same page.

May 13th, 2019

alexaAlexa and I are not really getting on as well as I had hoped, or thought we would.  First of all the rest of the family don’t like her listening in.  Then quite often we don’t understand each other.  When I asked about the forecast for rain the other day she played me the song Stormy Weather.  She keeps offering me skills that I don’t want or need (or at least I don’t know that I need).  And it vaguely upsets me that I don’t have to say please or thank you to her.  Whilst I realise that this is ridiculous I do worry about children across the nation losing the habit of politeness because they don’t have to be polite to a smart speaker.

However I will persist, and I know that Alexa and I will start to see eye to eye.  Partly, this is because I am busy, and some more assistance in life generally would be helpful (Alexa, fill in my passport application form/tax return/expenses at work/order flowers for my Auntie Joyce would be amazing functionality for example) and also because the stats show that so many other people already love their smart speakers.  And of course, other voice assistants are available, and are being used.   Mainly for weather and news updates, and music admittedly.

Over a quarter of UK households have smart speakers, and this is growing.  There’s plenty of barriers in place in terms of usage.  There’s no one protocol for use.  The different models don’t share the same language for example.  Once you do create brand content the discovery journey for customers isn’t yet established.  Across life in general but brands in particular use cases are in development.

What’s the hurry then?  With so much business as usual to fix, why worry about the next frontier?  Who can afford the time to develop work for a new channel, particularly when it is so clearly one where content from any other route to market just is not transferable.  The answer to this question is in front of us with every news story that demonstrates how new entrants to a market have eaten the lunch of brands that are established.  Every time the tech goliaths decide to diversify their revenue streams by more market disruption.

Guy Kawasaki says everyone in business is either a pie eater or a pie baker.  The pie eaters fight for a bigger slice of an existing pie.  If they win, you lose, and if you win they lose.  Pie bakers try and bake bigger pies.  They work on the approach the if the pie gets bigger, then they win and so do you.  When the pie gets bigger, then customers increase in number and diversity.  The status quo progresses and changes.  People, even competitors, can work together because everyone benefits.  Whether you agree with this theory or not, you’re much better off working for and with baker than eaters.

Voice would really benefit from a pie baking approach.  From sector alignment and standardized protocols and measurement.

Alexa, can you bake us a bigger pie?

 

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