Gaming the system

October 21st, 2014

Back in the summer (can you remember the summer ?) Campaign shared some of my holiday reading.


As it happened the weather in Devon was ok and the waves were suitable (not too gnarly, not too tiny).  Therefore I didn’t get to my book about the end of civilisation in the Bronze Age yet, but I did read Evgeny Morozov’s “To save everything click here“.


Morozov is peeved about a lot of stuff, specifically innovation for the sake of it and broadly the internet at large.  This book is a harsh critique of “solutionism”, the idea that we now have the potential to solve most of society’s ills through clever  digitally designed solutions.


The current craze for wearable tech including the Quantified Self initiatives comes under Morozov’s scrutiny.  He describes the four factors behind the rise of self-tracking : small sensors, their ubiquity in smart phones, social media normalising sharing and cloud computing so that you can offload your data and merge it with other people’s to generate norms and targets.  The urge to improve which is normally given as a reason for self tracking doesn’t wash.  Morozov says :”Self tracking – especially when done in public – is often just a by-product of attempts to show off….”


The author is gloomy about solutionism.  He thinks it will limit mankind.  We will have no moral framework, as the solutionists will limit our choices to the good ones.  He quotes scientist Ursula Franklin “Imagine what would have happened if Adam and Eve had not lived in a garden but in a smart building.  The divine designer would probably have arranged it so that they never saw apples.”  Not a good thing. No apples, no sin, no free will.


He’s overly pessimistic and is underestimating the human inventiveness.  Only the other day I unintentionally “gamed” a website.  Signing up for a gym online I couldn’t find the answer to a question, so I came out of the payment page twice to look for an answer.  By the time I went to pay for the third time the website had dropped the joining fee.  It won’t be long before everyone catches on to this kind of thing and in some way finds a way to exploit it.


Eve would have found a way to the apples in the smart building and Adam would have followed her.  I back the human capacity for breaking the rules over tech based internet solutionism.


So media planners need to stay alert. We might think we’re the planning experts but a decade ago we knew more about the purchase journey than we do now.  Then, there was a purchase funnel for most categories and we knew how to shove people down it.  Now, the consumer has a powerful computer in her pocket and that changes everything.  The funnel has become a loop (think spaghetti junction), and just as we set new rules for a category the consumer breaks those too.



Driving word of mouth is a great ambition, but it can go too far.

October 15th, 2014

I’ve got a packet of “repositional notes” on my desk.  You’d probably recognise them as “post it” notes.

I will probably use them in the same way as I would genuine post it notes, just as I will “hoover” my carpet with a Henry and chuck a “flying disc” in the park instead of a Frisbee.

Generating word of mouth is an ambition for many brands.  Who wouldn’t want to become a household name?  The myth busting Ehrenberg-Bass Institute include in their best practice marketing principles building and refreshing “memory structures” or “associations that make the brand easy to notice and easy to buy”.

In the words of Slim Shady : Be careful what you wish for.

Overuse of the brand name by the public may lead to “Genericide” : becoming so much the generic for your category that people don’t think there’s any point to seeking out the original.

There are of course lawsuits that can be put in play for infringement of copyright and businesses that seek out and stamp out improper use of trademarks online.

But the real killer is the misuse of your brand name by the general public.  Google have a set of “rules of proper usage”, and in the UK it is pretty unusual to search online at the moment using a different engine.  If search takes off in other social media channels the search giant might worry about people “googling” in other channels.

Simon Tulett comments that Twitter raised open concern about brand genericide in its initial IPO in fact mentioning that “there is a risk that the word “Tweet” could become so commonly used that it becomes synonymous with any short comment posted publically on the internet, and if this happens, we could lose protection of this trademark”.

Brands exist to be noticed.  They succeed when they short cut the decision making process to become the default choice for the category.  Exclusivity and distinctiveness is crucial to sustained competitive success.  Once YoYos, Thermoses, and Escalators were brands in their own right.  I’m not sure now what I’d even call a small round object that you can pump up and down on a string if I couldn’t call it a YoYo.

Investment in brand fame is important, but fame alone is not enough.  You need sustained investment in distinctive brand behaviour and continued development of your products to swerve the genericide trap.




HiPPO versus HiPo or why hierarchy can be bad for performance.

October 6th, 2014

A knock at the door of a hotel in Amsterdam.  Mick Jagger opens the door and bamm Charlie Watts punches him in the face.

Journalist Bill German says during a meeting where the Stones were discussing splitting up Mick Jagger said to Charlie Watts: “None of this should matter to you because you’re only my drummer”.  Watts’ point of view was that in fact Jagger was only his singer.  Watts went back to his hotel room. He then walked down the hall and knocked on Mick’s door. When the lead singer of the Rolling Stones opened it, his drummer hit him.  If there’s a hierarchy in the Rolling Stones then Jagger isn’t on top of it.

The other day someone mentioned to me that they thought that they should really improve their relationship with a more senior Person X (not his real name) because one day X might be their immediate boss.

I was a bit confused.  I said : “Shouldn’t you improve your relationship with X because you have to work with him now, and therefore you’ll work better together if you have a good relationship?”  “Hmm,” this person replied “yeah, and X might be my boss one day.”

I’m with Watts on this.  I base what I do on the idea that the person with the best ideas is the most important person in the room.  Not everyone does – I accept that – though I am horrified by the idea that someone would want to get to know anyone or want anybody’s good will purely because of a title.  I hope it is because that person can help their performance and help to make things happen.

Don’t back the HiPPO, back the HiPo (High Performer).  The HiPPO is the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.  DeRose and Tichy writing in Forbes say: “HiPPOs are leaders who are so self-assured that they need neither other’s ideas nor data to affirm the correctness of their instinctual beliefs. They are quick to shoot down contradictory positions and dismissive of underling’s input.” Great companies override arrogant HiPPOs and instead foster a culture of experimentation in which leaders at all levels are encouraged to test ideas in the marketplace and then let outcomes guide implementation.

Hierarchy matters to our egos but the most important person is the one that makes a difference to results.





How many strategists does it take to create a campaign?

September 30th, 2014

Just the one.  No joke.

People love a strategy.  Before a campaign reaches the public it may well have been through the rigour of a creative strategy, a media strategy, a content strategy, a direct response strategy, a digital strategy and a mobile strategy.

There is just one strategy and I’d like us all to acknowledge that and to call it a comms strategy.  It is based on the consumer journey, on and offline, tablet and mobile.  Everything else is a set of tactics and delivery executions to make it happen brilliantly.

Today, more than ever, the strategy should start with media first given the proliferation and diversification of channels.  It’s crucial that the creative is devised to work in those channels .

We need creative in media channels that people will choose to watch, choose to interact with and choose to share and increasingly choose to buy from.  Too many campaigns still start life as audio visual content that is probably designed for a cinema screen even though it is intended for a 40″ TV.  They’re then recycled and repurposed for media channels with enormously different requirements from the traditional (perhaps adapted for an outdoor execution that really should work harder than it does) to the newer (to run on You Tube where it will mainly be skipped in 5 seconds).

The Campaign and MediaCo Outdoor CityLive challenge was to use the medium to its best advantage.  This is how creative for digital outdoor should be devised.  If digital outdoor is part of the comms strategy then the creative challenge should be to deliver copy that works in that channel, not to adapt an existing idea.

At MediaCom we believe that there are at least ten criteria we recommend should be considered before any audio visual creative is signed off for use.  These range from optimal time length (by design not just a cut down : this Audi execution is a superb use of YouTube for example as the whole ad is intended to work in 5 seconds : the time it takes the car to accelerate), to if and how it is intended to be shared.  They also include understanding the context of meshing versus stacking and how active or passive the audience to the channel is.

One strategy, delivered with creative designed for the media context.




Forget mutual respect, a warm mutual disrespect is even better.

September 23rd, 2014

“We often hate each other, but it’s the kind of hatred like flint and steel – the sparks that come out of it make it worth the while”, Penn on his magic partner Teller.


One of the hardest fought categories in the Media Week Awards judging was Large Collaboration.  This was a strong shortlist, and whilst the entries were discussed in detail the judges also spent time on the nature of collaboration: how many participants did there need to be to take it out of merely business as usual ?


Whilst the secrets of the judging room must remain sacrosanct under current rules (though I am an advocate of transparency and a judge cam), I can reveal that my feeling is that whatever the number of participants great collaborations are tough to achieve.


There were just two people involved in the case of Lennon and McCartney but their stormy relationship is notorious and was necessary.  There can be too much respect floating around.  So much niceness that the tough battles don’t get fought that will deliver greatness.


People talk about the need for mutual respect in a collaboration.  Mutual disrespect is even better.  In great teams the best ideas come when everyone expresses an opinion on everyone else’s territory.  The crucial thing is to have a clear focus : the best outcomes for the brand.  If the creative shop fires out media ideas and the media agency has an opinion of the creative strategy and the media owners know better than that what to do with the brand to sell it to their audiences then from this creative melange and debate will come the most successful conclusion.


Too much politeness will kill the process.  Interviewed in the Sunday Times recently Brent Hobermann, who collaborated with Martha Lane Fox to found, and is now backing talks about his reputation for being demanding :”the danger when you’re an adult is that you think everyone has to like you.  If someone is wrong I’ll say it.”


Joshua Wolf Shenk, writing in Atlantic, characterises the Lennon/McCartney relationship as “co-opetition, whereby two entities at once oppose and support each other”.


Where there is too much politeness in a team it’s usually due to insecurity.  You can reduce insecurity by having rules that ensure everyone feels safe.  But you can’t deliver creative brilliance.  In a commercial collaboration which do you want as your outcome?