Archive for the ‘MediaComment’ Category

How to get better ideas

Friday, January 19th, 2018

Better ideas

spielCreative problem solving is crucial to everyone’s job now.  Innovation is part of the day job.

Sometimes that means doing new things in new ways.  Sometimes that means new things in old ways or old things in new ways.

There’s two dominant schools of thought on innovation in media.  Professionals who believe that not enough has changed and are sure that there’s radical change in reaching people in the right way, with the right message and at the right time which will grow brands and drive more effective work using new tech.

Others pour scorn on the digital utopia and suggest that the market will swing back to traditional brand building techniques.    (Have you read Ritson on 2018?).

The media landscape has been made less navigable by these contrasting orthodoxies. 

The truth lies in between. 

Because it depends.  On the brand, on the category, on the audience and on the timescales of effectiveness.  We need a steam of better ideas about how to solve new problems. 

The movie mogul Steven Spielberg has been making blockbuster films for decades.  Everyone reading this blog loves one of his films, at least:  Jaws, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Raiders of The Lost Ark….et al.  It is interesting and useful to know that he doesn’t rest on tried and trusted techniques and ways of working despite his amazing body of work and the army of adoring fans and strong critical acclaim.

He could rest on his laurels.  He doesn’t.  With 40+ years of experience he has turned his camera to a new genre of movie, one that is spot on for the current zeitgeist of questionable news and a woman brave enough to speak truth to power.

The Post opens this week.  It tells the story of The Pentagon Papers.  Documents that revealed that the US government had been lying about the Vietnam war.  The documents were initially leaked to the NY Times but President Nixon’s lawyers shut down their ability to publish.  The Washington Post got hold of them and published.  It was a high risk thing to do, one that could have landed the owner and editor in jail.  The owner, Katherine Graham, stood up for truth in the face of the full force of the government shut down. 

Spielberg says it’s his first political thriller.  He says he likes new challenges because he gets all his best ideas when he doesn’t know exactly what he is doing: “I get better ideas when I am standing on my heels, not on the flat of my soles.  It’s because I don’t want to fall, and I need to regain my balance… it’s scary but healthy.”

Want better ideas for problem solving in 2018.  You will need them.  Get on your toes, get outside your comfort zone.  Keep the knowledge and experience that you’ve earned but don’t over rely on them.  Get on your toes. 




Interrogate the evidence

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

keelerIn 1963 the “Profumo Affair” shook the nation.  Government minister John Profumo had been accused of “improper conduct”, ie sleeping with a model named Christine Keeler, who simultaneously was also said to be in a relationship with a Soviet diplomat at the height of the Cold War.  The press ran a story suggesting that her affairs could be threatening national security as pillow talk from the government minister for war might be being passed to the Soviets.  Keeler, who died in December, said of her life post Profumo: “I wasn’t living I was surviving”.

Initially, John Profumo denied everything, with the kind of arrogance about being believed in the face of evidence which was commonplace amongst men of his position and class in those days.  (Perhaps too still in these days, does Adland face a #metoo reckoning?)

Eventually Profumo admitted the truth, that he had lied to parliament and resigned.  Some commentators believe that this was the start of the end of the age of deference to the establishment.  The resignation of the prime minister Harold MacMillan followed within months and eventually, at the next election his Conservative party lost to Labour.

There was another man involved who had introduced Keeler to Profumo and who is now considered a scapegoat who suffered heavily.  Society osteopath Stephen Ward was charged with living off the immoral earnings of Christine Keeler and another woman, Mandi Rice Davies.  He had introduced Keeler to Profumo at the stately home Cliveden owned by pillar of the establishment Lord Astor, and Lord Astor to Rice Davies.  During Ward’s trial, which ended when Ward committed suicide, his defence counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied an affair with Rice Davies or indeed even having met her.  Rice Davies replied with a phrase which became famous and much quoted.  Faced with Astor’s denials Rice Davies said: “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”.

By 1979 this phrase had become part of common speech and entered the Oxford dictionary of quotations.  It is rarely heard or understood today.  It would be a useful phrase to adapt and use to decipher all of the competing “proof” of media effectiveness around at the moment.

When presented with research that justifies the use of a medium or a channel, consider whether “They Would Say That Wouldn’t They?”, (TWSTWT?).  Some Rice Davies inspired healthy skepticism will go a long way to unpick a media neutral growth strategy for brands.

When a particular medium “proves” that using their medium is better than another or when an advertising research study “proves” that advertising works, interrogate exactly what is being proved and what it means.  And always pose the “TWSTWT?” test to see a) how it stacks up versus other claims from other media and b) what third party standard of proof has been applied.

Most research that will reach a planner will be of a robust and decent standard.  Yet conflicting evidence does abound. About how effective video views of a couple of seconds are for example, or the importance of sound as well as vision.  There’s the much used metric of “engagement” which seems to mean something different in every study.  To find the path of greatest effectiveness use TWSTWT? as a first response to the research that is presented. 




Are you feeling positive about 2018?

Friday, January 5th, 2018

18A small poll of business leaders gives mixed results.  With Brexit consequences looming and uncertain negotiations on the horizon there is much insecurity and business leaders don’t like too many variables and the uncertainty that follows.

David Wilding of Twitter was out talking to media and agency heads as 2017 wrapped up and reports many accounts of gloom about prospects for the year ahead.

The nation is of course divided, that’s obvious.  Exactly how it is divided is more complicated.  There’s people who voted Brexit or remain.  There’s those who are positive about the possibilities ahead (however they voted) and those mired in despair about the consequences (however they voted).

As artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to progress there’s fear about job losses and about change.

Machine learning.  There is of course plenty of hype about this.  In fact the Gartner Hype Cycle has machine learning just about at the peak of inflated expectations and at least a couple of years from the plateau of productivity.

There’s plenty of room to test, learn, apply.  Where we have jobs done by humans that can be done by robots faster and better we will make that transition in 2018.  Instead of having humans doing robotic jobs we can empower them to make a difference.

So this is another UK business divide, one clearly reflected in the debates in Campaign and marketing titles.  Two tribes, technophobes and technophiles.

Michael Hayman, who is co-founder of Seven Hills and co-author of “Mission, how the best in business break through”, gave a rousing speech, at The Female Lead’s December gathering, where he suggested that the divide in Britain could be boiled down to one simple divide.  The divide between optimists and pessimists.

Whichever tribe you belong to, you would be an idiot to underestimate the difficulties coming in 2018.  There’s a great deal of change once again on the horizon and many unknowns.

There’s going to be problems to solve.

Problems that we haven’t faced before in exactly the form they’re going to come at us.

There’s only one real resource that we have for combating those problems.

Creativity.  Ideas that work in new ways to solve difficulties that we can’t predict.

Not creativity in the way that it has been defined by “Mad men” in the past.

Not exclusive creativity.  Creativity in everyone.

We’ve a long tradition at MediaCom of training everybody in creativity.  We believe that everyone has a creative streak that can be developed and trained just like a muscle.

At MediaCom we believe in the power of creativity to drive competitive advantage.

We believe that creativity powers great work that grows our clients.

We believe that

–         Creativity belongs to everyone, not a creative department

–         Creativity is human insight fuelled

–         Creativity is data fuelled

–         Creativity is open access and comes from the collaboration of many different agencies and partners

–         Creativity works in every environment in media where the consumers are

–         Creativity inspires desire and can also close the sale and prompt purchase

–         Creativity comes when you go off the beaten track

Best way to face 2018?

Be creative. With creative ideas we can drive real advantage in uncertain times.



Getting a competitive edge from Artificial Intelligence may require restructure

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Brush-Dynamo-Electric-Machine-from-Scientific-American-188184% businesses say that AI will give them competitive advantage.

23% say that they’ve currently incorporated it in their processes or service offerings today.

These stats come from Diane Black, Director at E&Y, speaking at Datatech’s conference last month.

Two points arise from this.  First that the potential of AI is being thought about in most businesses, (if it isn’t in yours then you need to think hard).  Second that if your business hasn’t incorporated AI, despite your strategies, you’re not alone.

It is clear from the other examples at the conference that there’s plenty of ways in which AI already is transformational.  Customer interaction with their high street banks has changed enormously for instance in the last 5 years as AI enables better fraud detection and saves time.  AI beats humans in gaming; facial recognition; natural language skills; healthcare diagnosis; predicting behaviour and even emotional intelligence.  Yes, AI is better than people in emotional intelligence too, at least in some aspects of what’s included in EI anyway, for example AI is better at spotting a lie than a person is.

So AI is still developing, but isn’t transforming every business as much as it could.

A bit like electricity.  Up until about a hundred years ago, the new-ish technology of electricity failed to make much headway in business.  The dynamo, or electricity generator, had been around since the 1830s.  But until 1910 most entrepreneurs were still using steam to power their factories.  Those innovators who did install electric motors were disappointed with the cost savings and efficiencies. According to Tim Harford the reason for this was that most of them were simply replacing the steam engines with electric motors and using them in the same way.  The simplest way to update the factory was of course to use electricity to power the same factory processes as the steam engines had done.

But electric motors were much more than this. They had potential to revolutionise the entire factory process.  Electricity could be safely and simply delivered where it was needed in a way that steam power cannot – it has to be one central source of power – whereas electricity can be everywhere.   So the old factories had to be arranged around the central power steam source, and were crowded, dark and dense.  Steam set the pace, not the factory workers.  Electricity is safer, cleaner, more flexible.  To reap the benefits however the whole factory structure and the way everyone worked had to be ripped up.

Most factory owners were initially reluctant to change everything at scale and sacrifice the old ways of working to new-fangled methods.  It wasn’t possible to run a small test and learn and reap the benefits gradually.  For significant improvements, everything had to be re-imagined.  Old rules abandoned.  Hierarchies ripped up.  Some old expertise became useless.  New experts emerged.

Eventually, decades after the invention of the dynamo, this happened and factories hit new peaks of efficiency and productivity.  An external event prompted this change, as travel from war-torn Europe meant more migrants and a radical shift in the availability of cheap labour and different kinds of expertise.  This altered the dynamics of the economy in unexpected ways and re-distributed skills and ideas.

The story of the dynamo, which required entrepreneurs to change the entire existing system in their factories, their buildings, their logistic and their personnel, to reap the benefits raises these two points then about AI:

–         UK businesses need wholesale change to benefit, rather than just plugging in to existing ways of working.

–         Brexit may provide the external impetus to step-change or challenge the speed of adoption in the UK.

Working “BAU (business as usual)” with added AI won’t deliver real competitive edge.  Radical re-thinking is necessary.







Panto season is here

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

pantoOh no it isn’t

Oh yes it is.

It’s maybe not generally known that the original folk tales on which one of the greatest hits of panto is loosely based were really quite dark.

The Grimm Brothers telling of Cinderella differs from the panto and Disney version in several respects.  For instance Cinderella’s ball gown is not the gift of a fairy godmother but of a tree growing on her mother’s grave that she has watered with her tears. The step sisters end up getting their eyes pecked out.  And the glass slipper episode has a darker turn too.

You’ll remember from childhood the story runs that the only way that the clearly rather unobservant Prince Charming can identify Cinderella after the ball is by searching the kingdom for a woman whose tiny foot fits the glass slipper left on the stairs of the palace.  The so called “ugly sisters” can apparently fool the prince into thinking that they are the woman he intends to make his bride apart from the fact that they can’t squeeze their foot into the slipper.

In the original version they do indeed get the slipper on.  The evil stepmother ensures that they do by cutting off a toe or two.  The prince only clocks that this is fake because of the blood, the blood that spills everywhere.

Uncomfortable stuff.

As uncomfortable as every day can be for people who work in an environment where they need to cut off aspects of their personalities in order to fit in.

The Glass Wall holds back women from the careers they deserve in the workplace.

There is another glass metaphor, the Glass Slipper problem, which afflicts everyone who doesn’t fit the culture and expectations of their chosen career.  There are many unspoken expectations wrapped up in the job you take, fuelled by years of cultural imagery.  For example an investigative journalist is expected to be hungry, edgy, a bit tired looking and fearless.  A chef is meant to be sweary and aggressive.

If you’re a comfortable well rested journalist, does that make you less good at chasing down a story?

If you’re efficient and relaxed are you a worse chef?

If you don’t participate in media’s drinking culture are you less likely to progress?

A professor at the University of Colorado, Karen Lee Ashcraft, wrote a paper identifying this issue.   Ashcraft writes that some occupations have come to be “naturally possessed” of features that fit certain people much more than others.  If you have ambitions to progress within an organisation that is characterised with attributes that don’t come naturally to you, then you may feel under huge pressure to adopt them, even if it means hiding your real identity day in and day out.

This can put an enormous strain on people and the effort it takes is not only exhausting but of course therefore detracts from the energy that would otherwise be available for doing good work.

Sometimes the attributes are sexual orientation or skin colour.  Sometimes it’s more subtle.  Do you ski? If you do is it at the “right resort”?  If not, in some companies, you might as well have not bothered.

Squeezing your foot into a Glass slipper that doesn’t fit is always painful.  Organisations that go along with this are missing out on the benefits of diversity and wasting their teams’ energies on a fruitless exercised of conformity.

For a truly happy ending, let Cinderella and her sisters, and the dame and Buttons, Gus Gus and Jaq, not to mention Aladdin, Dick and his cat all go to the corporate ball.