Archive for the ‘MediaComment’ Category

Style or Swagger?

Friday, November 26th, 2021

bry“It’s all about the detail”

This could be a comment about media planning, or advertising.  Strategy is fine, but its nothing without the detail.

But in fact this what Bryan Ferry said to me about men’s tailoring.  Ferry, a pop star and fashion icon, first came to my attention when he was on Top of the Pops as lead singer of Roxy Music in a blue leather suit.

I met him, years later, when I was a plus one on a trip to Paris where Mark Edwards was interviewing him for the coolest magazine of its era, Arena.  The interview ran late, I wangled myself an invite to dinner, and Ferry, who could not have been more charming to this interloper, explained men’s fashion to me, of which he is an icon of course.

Ferry has always worn outfits to stand out.  So too has Tabboo! – a multi-disciplinary artist whose works are in MoMA and who became famous as part of New York City’s drag scene in the 1980s.  Tabboo! dresses as a “Manifesto for life”.  He says: “Most part everybody now wears sweatshirts or gymwear, even to fancy events.  I’m the one dressed to the nines.  To the twelves! The fifteens!  They say what are you all dressed up for?  My answer is, today.  This could be the last day of my life and this is how I’m living.”

Of course, many people stopped dressing for work when they began working from home.  Not so GroupM Emea CEO Demet Ikiler, who told me, on the Connected Podcast, that she’s been getting ready for work every morning whether she has been going to the office or not during lockdown.  She’s been dressing for herself.

We’re in transition back to real life meetings.  How is this affecting what people wear?  Will the casual fashion common to many when working from home remain pre-eminent or will dressing up for the office return?

In my first conference in real life this year, there was a big divide between how the women on stage dressed versus many (but not all) of the men.  Many of the men on stage were in very casual clothes, worn in jeans and trainers.  Most of the women were dressed to those nines and fifteens.  I commented to the chair of my session that one reason for having more women on stage is that you could count on them to dress up.  Ellie Edwards Scott, co-founder of the Advisory Collective, replied:  “Ah but those men on stage don’t feel that they need to dress up – they have the power.”

I don’t know if this is the case.  I do know the difference was stark.   And if Ferry’s main lesson about men’s clothing was it’s all about the detail, this wasn’t evident at this event.

There may be other reasons for the difference.  Another wise commentator said she thought that the casual look was meant to project youthful trendiness, not power.  Certainly, men’s clothing is traditionally a uniform – from the pinstripes of the business world of the last century to the frayed jeans and casual sweatshirts of today, it may all be about fitting in.

As a woman in business perhaps it is crucial to stand out still, and this may be also true for other groups that are under-represented in senior leadership.  Either way, it will be true that there’s more diversity in dress as well as diversity of thinking if women and other groups are represented on stage at conferences as well as in business.




There are 48 ways to transform creativity. Here’s number 3. Use an old idea.

Monday, November 15th, 2021

smashRecently the grand ad man Dave Trott gave a potted history of great advertising at the excellent ZeeMelt21 conference.  This is a masterclass in what was the golden age of advertising as entertainment, and effective transformation.  Any strategist who is concerned with the role that TikTok will play in their 2022 plans would do well to start by going back and looking at the standout strategies of the past.  Before you try and cut through in the metaverse, it is powerful to consider how cut through worked in the world before computers.

One of the new studies from IPA Effectiveness Week this year also reminds us all that an old idea can be a great idea.

The report from WARC, developed in association with Royal Mail Marketreach, is an analysis of successful UK case studies that use direct mail.  It takes a look at what direct mail can offer in today’s world, in the context of changing consumer behaviours post-COVID and technology innovations, and explores the best strategies for measuring the effectiveness of direct mail campaigns.

And some of the results might surprise.  For instance, that including direct mail in the campaign mix will uplift results significantly.  And that digital natives welcome direct mail in the mix.  We all “love” a Frankenstein word, and this report hails the rise of Phygital (I know, I know).   Those aged 15-24 are most likely to trust direct mail (out of everyone surveyed).  For people who are accustomed to interacting digitally, a physical invitation to buy proves both novel and effective.

There is much to be said too for recycling old ideas.  Every hardened planner has the ideas that didn’t get through selling process and didn’t get made.  There’s a huge amount of effort that goes into generating new ideas for new briefs.  But there is value in keeping a note of those ideas that didn’t quite make it, and seeing if they have value in a new context.  This does not mean shoehorning an idea that does not fit.  It isn’t time for the Glass Slipper to be forced onto the slightly less attractive sister’s foot.  It does mean revisiting an idea that fell by the wayside and seeing if it can be built on to satisfy a new brief, audience or tech platform.

There is lots of rhetoric about the speed of change, however fundamentally nothing has changed.  People are the same, human nature has not changed and we can only produce great work if we have true human insight for our professional target audiences (and for each other as team mates.)

In my ZeeMelt21 talk I spoke about evolution.  500 years ago the amount of information and data the average person was likely to see IN A YEAR probably equates to what, 60 minutes of scrolling through social media now.  But our human brains just haven’t evolved that much in that time frame.  Which is why we blank out and ignore nearly everything that we see and just retain the tiny amount that interests or entertains us.

Cutting through the clutter is more crucial as a skill than ever before for communication.  A distinctive old idea, one that stirs us emotionally and triggers our memories, may well be a good place to start.




What are your transformation priorities?

Monday, November 1st, 2021


tw“I get 200 emails a day, and 3 quarters of them are people breathlessly telling me about their wonderful solution that will change my life. Some percentage of them are probably right but I don’t begin to have enough time to read all those emails let alone answer them… it is one of my greatest sources of anxiety: how do I keep up? How do I know what’s going on?  How do I know what I need to know?”

Peter Horst CMO Hershey from CMOs at work

It’s our role in agencies to answer this question, and every year at  MediaCom’s annual Transformation Week we convene the latest, most crucial information to make sure that we see the bigger picture.

What’s hype, what’s real, what’s transformational?

Our MediaCom experts, inspirers, agitators, our colleagues from WPP and Group M, our partners at media owners come together for what amounts to a festival of transformation.

This year Transformation Week was September 20th-24th.  There were 25 brilliant sessions with over 2300 attendees, and overall attendance was up year on year by over a quarter.

There’s too much content to rattle through in one blog.  All the sessions are available to view here, and we’re really grateful to everyone who participated.

Here’s some of the most crucial themes:


Mark Read, WPP’s ceo and Dame Carolyn McCall, ceo of ITV spoke to news anchor Nina Hussein, about business transformation, and united in agreeing what is a key overall theme of this year’s Transformation Week:  acceleration.  Strategies for business development and particularly digital transformation are frequently in place and are sound.  What is necessary now is speed, and very often new skills and ways of working.

Make sure you’re informed, but also trust your instincts:

MediaCom ceo Kate Rowlinson and Group M ceo Karen Blackett met to discuss setting the agenda for the future.  They talked about the role we can all play in creating a better fairer society through our work, and the importance of trusting your gut, listening to your instincts for doing the right thing.

Transform not just what you do but how you work:

Working in new ways was a key theme of MediaCom’s client session where Kerry Chilvers, brands director from DLG, Catherine Lees director of consumer strategy from Sky and Nick Ashley head of media and planning from Tesco spoke with MediaCom head of planning James Parnum and their respective agency leads, Catherine Pronzato, Hannah McWilliam and Rebecca Davies about the future of client and agency partnerships.  Smashing silos, creating one team of agency and client talent and working in an Agile way were key take outs of this insightful session.

The power of an Agile approach to digital transformation was explained by Steve Peters and Dave Heath from Code: using a powerful technique – the “How might we…?” question, they drove millions in extra revenue for one client by taking their booking systems online.

And there was much much more:

Jane Wolfson introduced an insightful session with top editors at Hearst by revealing that 1 in 2 people feel that they have lost a sense of identity during the pandemic.

This was also reflected on in Facebook’s session where I discussed the impact of the lockdown on the careers of many women, with Michelle McElvoy, and how allyship can make a real difference.  I raised the point that there should be a cross industry initiative to diminish any harm that social can create.

Global talked about the power of podcasts to help tackle taboos because they’re private, intimate, and friendly.  Yet delivering them well requires new skills and a change in approach.

We heard about new skills from Snap – especially how to use Augmented reality to enhance the shopper journey (over 200 million users try things on with AR before buying); Google urged us to update the shopper experience too with one case study showing a 40% improvement in returns when visual formats were added.  Clear Channel and Contagious recommended the power of “mousetrap marketing” where the brand leaves room for the consumer to participate.  MediaCom’s Helen Brain and IPA president Julian Douglas warned against the pitfalls of “green washing; green wishing and green hushing”.  Savvy consumers will pick you up on the first two, and remaining silent is not good enough.

The ethics of data usage were covered in two sessions: MediaCom’s Owain Wilson told us to be clear that just because you can do something with data, doesn’t mean you should.  Stay in control, be trusted and be relevant is his three part mantra.  Our MD Satin Reid interviewed Group M’s Niel Bornman who reinforced the importance of a data ethics policy and disclosed that he isn’t that optimistic that consumers will ever be in control of their own data.

Lindsey Jordan (MediaCom’s head of creativity), our ECD Tom Curtis and Bonita Samuels talked about new skills required to maximise the impact of creativity by bringing diverse voices in, by using data in new and exciting ways to power relevancy and the rapid impact of democratization on creativity as social allows everyone to have a voice.  This session is packed full of amazing work – including Croatia’s Dogvertising award winning approach.

Its impossible to cover every  session here, and there’s much more to delve into including Sky telling us the future of sport, Twitter teaching us how to stand out, Channel 4 reporting on Black to Front, Bauer on the flexibility and creativity of radio; Mobsta on fighting climate change; DCM and Pearl and Dean on the power of cinema for cultural traction, MediaCom and Group M on systemic change through inclusive planning, Xaxis on how to unlock the potential of gaming, JCDecaux on transformation in adversity.

So speed and acceleration are crucial, if you slow your transformation down you will be left behind. We all have an active role to play in making work and the workplace better.  New skills are essential (what new skill will you acquire this year?).





A new commercial and marketing playing field requiring new rules, experimentation and effectiveness in advertising and media

Friday, October 1st, 2021

When I was 6 years old I fell in love.  In fact, I found the man that I wanted to marry.  I found him on TV.

Captain Scarlet was my first love.  He’s good looking, he has piercing blue eyes, he’s indestructible, you can count on him in a crisis, he saves humanity repeatedly and he talks like Cary Grant.

My big brother was quick to react to this.  He basically mocked me for my choice, saying that there was no way I’d end up as Mrs Scarlet because the captain wasn’t a real man.  Captain Scarlet is a puppet.

I remember clearly that I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.  At 6, and entranced by the escapism of TV, I had no way of differentiating flesh and blood from strings, wire and wood.  I was surprised, and disappointed, that my brother seemed to think that Captain Scarlet’s identity was a problem for my future matrimonial plans.

The relationship between me and the Captain didn’t go anywhere, I’m not even sure he ever noticed me.  And I moved on (eventually).  However, the blurring of the so-called “real world” with living the fantasy has only got stronger, more pervasive, more widespread.

The metaverse has arrived, and you can live your dreams, your fantasies and your best life in the virtual world. Yes, TV is still brilliant escapism but now, in Fortnite, Roblox, Animal Crossing and the rest, people are literally immersed in another world.  And they are not alone, with friends, with family, there is no need to suspend disbelief if you’re in this virtual life, it is the reality.

More and more people are participating.  The pandemic gave the metaverse an unexpected boost of course.  More and more money is changing hands.

Fast Company Magazine points out: A recent study from Squarespace and The Harris Poll found that 60% of Gen Z and 62% of Millennials believe how you present yourself online is more important than how you do so in real life. While traditional social media and websites are still used in the majority, metaverse platforms are increasingly becoming engrained in the mainstream, creating a boom in avatar creations and marketplaces to outfit your digital self.

Earlier this year the sale of a virtual sneaker raised $3.1m in 7 minutes.

A report by Wunderman Thompson claims that “on averagerespondents from UK, US and China are willing to pay $76,000 for a virtual house; $9,000 for original art; $2,900 for a virtual designer handbag.

Some commentators are raising questions about the lines between immersive gaming and the metaverse.  I think the answer lies in how real it feels to the participants (is it as real as Capt Scarlet was to a 6 year old?), and how much time and money people are prepared to commit to it.  And the tech will continue to expand its pervasiveness.  You might be in Decentraland or Cryptovoxels on your pc at the moment, but soon you’ll join in a pair of smart sunglasses.

As my COO Luke Bozeat says, “ultimately this is simply another platform for brands”.  The virtual gig in Fortnite is another distribution channel for music just like Spotify, Apple music and Amazon created new ways for you to listen to your favourite band beyond the cd which many people grew up with. It allows a new point of entry to a brand – the 17 year old who can’t yet afford a designer watch, can buy one for their avatar.

And just as one form of advertising designed for TV is not fit for purpose on a fb feed, the metaverse will demand that the creative message is designed for the medium.  And that a clear strategy is developed both to deliver immediate sales and long term brand impact.

Meanwhile in the metaverse there’s already a battle for domination.  Tim Sweeney, founder of Epic Games and creator of Fortnite says he is determined to stop today’s Silicon Valley elite from extending their empires into the metaverse.  However Schumpeter writes that “all the tech giants started out fighting for open competition against incumbents, and then over time, as their leadership positions strengthened, their missionary zeal waned.”

For anyone with an addictive strain to their personality, the metaverse will have a dark side.  As Monish Darda, founder of software company Icertis comments there’s a danger that: “humans can get caught in a virtual world that they never want to come out of.”

However the metaverse plays out, it’s a new commercial and marketing playing field requiring new rules, experimentation and effectiveness in advertising and media. My dream of Captain Scarlet was personal to me as a child.  The big difference of the metaverse is it facilitates immersive escapism for real friends, virtual friends, and family together.






Tired ? Take a break from yourself

Friday, September 17th, 2021


Sympathy is exhausting.  Empathy gives you energy.

What is sympathy?

Sympathy is feeling pity and compassion, and it’s can be exhausting.

What is empathy?

Empathy is actually feeling what someone else is feeling.

It is not imagining how someone is feeling by putting yourself in their shoes.  It’s a nice thing to do of course. But it is different from real empathy.  The phrase many people use is imagine walking a mile in their shoes.  I heard one CMO say that he took some shoes that his customers might wear to a board meeting so that the senior management could try them on.  It is a worthy thing to do, and it does take some effort.   But it is not empathy.

The example I use in our book Belonging to illustrate this is of a pet cat.  Pet cats like to bring their owners presents.  The best way that they can show their love for their owner is to bring them a present that they themselves would love to receive.  Usually this is a dead bird or a dead mouse.  It is of course usually received with horror by the recipient.  This is a superb example of a lack of real empathy.

A cat with empathy would never bring a present like this.   (A cat with empathy would clean your house for you, or bring you new trainers.)

Empathy is really stepping into the skin of the other person, into their head, its close to being possessed temporarily by them.  And that’s why it is energizing, because the real act of empathy is taking a brief holiday from being yourself, and your natural self-obsession.

American writer David Foster Wallace said: ““Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.”

To stop doing this even for a few moments gives you a break from yourself.  And a break as many of us appreciate even more this year when we have been not just working from home, but living at work, is as good as a rest.

We have a technique that we use at MediaCom for this in particular – Method Insight.  Named (by my colleague Steve Gladdis) for the technique that actor Robert de Niro famously used to prepare for his Oscar nominated role in Scorsese’s film Taxi Driver.  In order to get into the right mindset to play Travis Bickle for Taxi Driver, DeNiro literally took to the New York streets in a yellow cab. For two weeks prior to shooting, DeNiro trawled the streets day and night, developing a feel for life from the driver’s seat in the seedier areas of New York. It was essential preparation for his job.

This was not only an arduous undertaking that showed off the star’s willingness to put in the hard yards required to achieve a great performance, but it was also downright dangerous. The areas around Precinct 75, where he would patrol, were notorious crime hubs and, often, that would spill from the streets into the backseat.

De Niro says: “I look at it from the character’s point of view”.  Not his own, but really inhabiting another person.

How does this apply to planning?

We ask every planner to live the experience of the business they work on – this might mean going on a shopping expedition with the target audience.  It might mean delivering groceries; delivering sofas; spending time with sales leads and at call centres.  We ask them to be conscious and aware of paying attention to what they observe and not consider it from their own point of view but by inhabiting the point of view of others.  From this comes the insight that leads to great work.

Really being open to other peoples lived experiences, not seeing them from an ad agency bubble, allows you to have real empathy and not just sympathy with the brand and the buyers.  It’s essential preparation for the job.

Sympathy is tiring.

Empathy gives you energy.

It’s as if you are going on holiday from yourself.