The Secret Life of Millennials

June 13th, 2016

c4The Great Wall of China is the only man made structure visible from space; a penny dropped from a tall building can kill a man; men think about sex every 6 seconds; we only use 10 per cent of our brains.


Millennials have the attention span of a goldfish.


All commonly held popular beliefs.  All rubbish.


Especially the last one.


Channel 4 have published a brilliant bit of new research into the generation known as millennials.  And I can confirm, having seen its first outing that they have hidden depths.  So if you want to really establish your brand with this generation then you need to respect them, and their depths.


Millennials are aged roughly between 16 and 34, and there’s lots of them… nearly 16 million in the UK.  So it’s important to understand them, their economic power, and how they are and are not different to previous generations.


They’ve been characterised as lazy tech obsessed entitled slackers.


They’re certainly at home with tech.  They do check their phone all the time.  But they aren’t passive media loners stuck to their screen, too lazy to achieve anything.  They’re constant sharers.  And constant hackers.


In contrast to any previously generation this is the time to design communications strategies that they can properly participate in.  There might not be a single water cooler moment for this group, but there’s a massive number of “Have a look at this” sharing opportunities.  For an unconventional and exemplary case study, take a look at how Kanye marketed “Life of Pablo”, sharing its development, driving controversy, demand and interaction.


Their lives are much less linear in many ways than previous people in that age group.  Some of their attitudes are significantly different too.


They’re the first generation to have grown up with access to the Internet, social media and global TV content 24 hours a day.  Culture and influence from around the world.  As a result they are extremely well informed.  (Unlike most goldfish).


There are lots of them living with their parents, that much is true.  But they often don’t see that as a compromise, they regard their parents as allies and friends according to the research and go to them for advice and support, but equally offer advice and support to their parents.


They’re a key, and often ignored, influence on their parents purchasing decisions.  Traditional views of gender seem to be truly absent, for perhaps the first time since Eve offered Adam the apple.


C4’s study featured Dan – millennial father of one.

He’s a football loving lad, who works shifts in order to get home in time to pick his daughter up from nursery, and to care for her for the rest of the day.  He points out: “My dad wouldn’t ever even have changed a nappy, and my grandfather was the type of man the kids would play around, but he wouldn’t play with them.”


Hidden depths, hidden potential.  As far as communicating with this generation goes, get it right and they’ll endorse you peer to peer.  Get it wrong, and you might not get a second chance.  Comfortable traditional ideas that this lot will turn into the same sort of people as previous generations might make things easier but they won’t have an impact.


Brilliant Louis Michael from Gogglebox put it simply when he joined the conference and said: “Millennial encapsulates the idea of change”.


Down with the “Digirati”

June 6th, 2016

Helena-Bonham-Carter-In-Harry-Potter-And-The-Deathly-Hallows-Part-2“Programmatic: it’s automated trading – say it as it is.  What is big data? – it’s what you do with it that’s important”.

This is Claudine Collins speaking her mind about advertising buzz words that she hears too much and just aren’t simple enough.

We all have a tendency to use jargon, as discussed in my recent blog.  We all have our pet hates, and our own bad habits.  When you work in an industry that’s as fast moving as ours, it seems as though we sometimes can’t bear to take the time, those few extra seconds, to spell out what we really mean.

It would be great to think that we could just call a halt to the proliferation of jargon.  In reality it’s not that easy.  You could argue that together with the internet, social media and search, another of the unstoppable developments of this millennia is more pointless, incomprehensible digital jargon, than the previous half century saw altogether.

Is it a necessary evil in a fast moving disruptive environment?

Or are there a set of digirati out there, who take comfort in the advantage of speaking in a language that ordinary media experts don’t quite follow?  Who use acronyms or technical speak instead of plain English? Who delight in baffling their colleagues and bask in the reassurance that after 2 or 3 hours of explanation of what data might be able to do everyone will agree with them just to get to go to the pub.

In the dying years of the last century writer John Carey published a scathing attack on modern culture.  He argued that high modernism was deliberately designed to exclude, and put down the vast majority of the UK population.  A standard of “good” had been created and agreed by a small group of “literati” – intellectuals, artists, writers – which was not accessible to most people.  In fact if they looked like ordinary people understood it, it meant that it wasn’t any good.

Well known writers came under the spotlight of his criticisms because they evidently regarded the education of the masses as a bad thing.  Attempts by normal folk to understand modernism were mocked and derided.  Anything that the masses appreciated was abandoned – realism, logical coherence, accessibility.  “Poets in our civilisation.. must be difficult” said T.S. Eliot.  E.M.Forster, who wrote “Passage to India” and “A Room with a View” depicts a young man called Leonard Bast in his novel “Howards End”.   In the novel Leonard attempts to educate himself by reading literary classics and going to symphony concerts.  Carey writes: “Despite these efforts, Forster makes it clear, Leonard does not acquire true culture.  He has a ‘cramped little mind’….there is not the least doubt that he is inferior”.

The literati, the literary intelligentsia, did nothing to promote understanding of their art.  In fact they went out of their way to inhibit broader access.

Are there a set of digital intelligentsia, or digirati, who only feel comfortable talking in acronyms, using jargon instead of plain English?  To jump to another literary genre, one of which I am sure the literary intelligentsia of Carey’s book would have detested, are they like pure born wizards in Harry Potter who despise and detest the mudbloods?

Surely not.  I hope that if that any readers do come across this they have zero tolerance for such attitudes.  Incomprehensible jargon is not big or clever and only plain and clear thinking will deliver success.


Engaging with the flagpole

May 27th, 2016

Karen+Stacey+Sue+Unerman+Advertising+Week+P6XHB5nFUhNlAre you as sick of jargon as the rest of us?

In the run up to a recent panel session with Karen Stacey, David Weeks and Omaid Hiwaizi, I asked around the office for everyone’s favourite, or is that most hated, jargon.

There was a deluge of response. And not all of it is digital technical acronyms.

Jargon falls into four loose and overlapping categories:

Cliché (Let’s run that one up the flagpole and see who salutes it); Tech jargon (DMP, CMP, DSU, DSP and DPS – have I made any of those up?); Frankenstein words (Imagineering); Poached terms, words or phrases that have a perfectly respectable normal meaning in the real world but which we have decided to invest with hidden meaning in media (Engagement – which seems to mean we’re hopeful that whoever we’re aiming this communication at won’t completely ignore us – this translates to “we had a very high level of engagement with the audience”).

We don’t have ideas any more when we can instead ideate or solutionise.  The flagpole that we run our thinking up might sit inside the walled garden (sometimes a good thing, it does sound tranquil, safe and pleasant, sometimes bad, a closed environment with limited sunlight or potential for growth).

Many people particularly dislike sentences that begin with the phrase “Data is the new…”

Oil? Matchmaker? Kryptonite? Soil? Rock and Roll? Take your choice.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time in meetings discussing the size of people’s data recently.  Although I obviously know that a terabyte is bigger than a gigabyte I keep forgetting whether a yottabyte is bigger than a zettabyte or the other way round.

Once you start being conscious of jargon you hear it everywhere. Overheard recently: “Is scaling of native difficult?” asked one chairperson.  “We’d obviously start with a data storm” stated another.

Does this matter?  Yes it matters.

First because using jargon allows everyone to misunderstand ever so slightly what everyone else means.  Too much jargon and you end up with different interpretations of what is going on and that benefits no-one.

Second, although there’s always been jargon, the pace of change in general has also accelerated the amount of jargon piling up.

Admittedly, it isn’t always easy to spell out what you mean in words of one syllable.

But we must try to be simpler and plainer.  Thanks Bloomberg for highlighting the issue and thank you to chair Adam Buxton for explaining that the more you use jargon, the more you come across as a dick.





Adblocking: A Darwin Wedge?

April 29th, 2016

monster bull2 535Economist Robert H. Frank coined the term Darwin’s Wedge to describe situations where stuff evolves to benefit the individual but actually is bad for the species overall.

Look for instance at the elephant seal.  Bull elephant seals are huge.  They can weigh as much as 6 thousand pounds.  They’re 5 times bigger than female seals.  They’re twice as heavy as the average car.  During the mating season this is to the individual’s advantage.  Mature bulls battle each other for hours.  The victorious bull claims exclusive access to the female harem of as many as 100 cows.

As a species this is a disadvantage.

As a species it makes them far more vulnerable to sharks.

The bull elk is another case in point.  Similarly the bull elk must battle against all other bull elks in his tribe to gain access to lady elks.  In the battle the size of the antler is key.  The bigger the better.  Furthermore, since the winning bull elk will be most likely to have bigger antlers, his descendants will acquire the big antler gene.  There’s a generational antler race (like an arms race).  The largest antlers of the North American bull elk measure over 4 feet and weigh more than 40 pounds.  Again, this is terrific for an individual, sex starved elk.  Not so terrific for the species because it makes it much harder to run away from wolves, especially through woods.

This situation is Frank’s Darwin’s Wedge.

If you judge success for online ads in a short term way then the better your ad is at generating clicks the better it is for you.  It doesn’t matter much that you’re annoying people.  You couldn’t care less if people are clicking on your ad by mistake when they really just wanted to check the weather, and end up instead on flappybird.  You’re counting clicks not sales and anyway a .0001% conversion might be your business model.

What’s great for the individual (the specific ad) is not so great for the species (ads in general).  Because if you get really annoyed with your inability to avoid ads on your mobile (because they’ve got better at tricking you into interacting with them whether you intended to or not), you might start to consider installing an adblocker.

Stats abound about how big the threat is from adblockers.  Deloitte’s TMT 2016 report is relatively relaxed about it.  Deloitte Global predict just 0.3% of all mobile device owners will use an ad-blocker this year.  At the recent Guardian conference on the other hand stats were quoted that over 80% of German millennial men used adblockers (provoking a huge gasp from the audience).  Many publishers are furious about the situation.

Most people may well not bother with adblockers.  But the better the algorithm performs or if you like in Darwinian terms evolves to deliver a short term metric like click through, the more annoying the website will seem.  Whilst few consumers ever openly admit to loving ads (though I still know loads of people who get to the cinema in time for the ads), most people don’t go out of their way to avoid them actively all the time.  They just don’t have the energy.  But point out to them that with an adblocker the page they want to read will load 5 times faster, or how much they’re paying for data that ads are eating……

Robert H. Frank’s solution to Darwin’s wedge problems in business is tax.  Tax annoying adverts?  Imposed perhaps by the IAB?  Can’t see that happening anytime soon, but the IAB’s LEAN initiative is to be encouraged.


“Juries don’t buy evidence they buy narrative… Our job is to tell the story better than the other guy”.

April 22nd, 2016

ojThis is Johnnie Cochrane on The people v OJ Simpson, American Crime Story.  The jury he’s talking about are of course those picked for the famous controversial murder trial in the 1990s.  But could he be talking about any jury?  Including those who are about to judge the awards for the upcoming, packed, 2016 awards season in media and advertising?

It’s been my honour to be in awards juries at several awards over the last 5 years.  First it is important to stress that results are always discussed and a lack of them, or a sense that they’re smoke and mirrors, is usually a deterrent to a win.. usually but not exactly always.

Starting with smoke and mirrors.  The number of times the word “engagement” is used in the results section of a paper is arguably in direct proportion to the robustness of actual outcomes in terms of the client’s objectives for their business.  Here’s one anonymous example that I remember from a recent paper: “we demonstrated significant engagement with the brand, all with a modest media budget”.  This kind of factoid is increasingly a rarity but definitely is to be avoided.

So assuming that a paper has proper results, a great insight and a good logic to the activity, surely it should be a winner.  Here’s where the other guy comes in.  The highly competitive nature of our industry means that you’re not just convincing the awards jury that your campaign was successful, you’re out to convince them that it was more successful than any of the others in the category.

In some instances this might be a very broad competitive framework.  So in 2015 Campaign Media Awards categories were divided largely by sector, and some sectors are very varied.  Fashion, healthcare and beauty as a category might pit Nike versus Rimmel versus Piriteze.  Media Week’s large medium and small categorisations obviously have other brands smashing up against each other – one category might include Clarins v Heinekin v Birds Eye.  Your entry has to cut through, and you don’t even know what the competition is that you are up against when you write it.

Here is Cochrane’s point then.  Your narrative needs to be compelling.  And to overcome the fatigue of the jury member (who might have read 23 entries before they get to yours) and any bias that they might not even be conscious of.

Daniel Kahneman, the nobel prize winning behavioural econometrician, writes about system 1 and system 2 thinking.  System 1 is gut instinct.  System 2 is logical thought.  In a fight for dominance system 1 wins every time.  We like to think that we are in control of our decision making, in fact we decide most things on instinct and then rationalise our decision.  Awards juries do not do this on purpose.  They are usually very diligent and conscientious.  Most have entered themselves over the years and really appreciate the effort that goes into crafting your award entry.  But there are a set of biases that are part of human nature that a winning entry has to overcome.  There’s the “cheerleader bias” where you are drawn to join in with one enthusiast on the jury even if you don’t agree in private.  There’s the “less is better bias” where one strong result will convince a juror more than a list of seven positive metrics can.  There’s the “rhyme as reason bias” which of course Cochrane exploited with “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit”.

Good luck with awards entries for this season.  The winners will have triumphed not just in the clarity of thought that went into the campaign but additionally in the story telling narrative of their entry.