120 seconds… but I want it now

September 25th, 2019

marshmallowRemember the marshmallow test?

Several small children were put in a viewing room by scientists at Stanford University in the 1960s. Presented with a plate with a single marshmallow on it, they were told that if they waited and didn’t eat it in the next fifteen minutes then they could have two marshmallows as a reward.

The four year olds were then filmed as they struggled to resist the immediate gratification of the single treat in favour of obeying the scientist and waiting for the requisite time for the full double treat.

Stanford then followed the subjects into later life where it was established that the children who had waited had better life outcomes in general compared to those who had succumbed to temptation and couldn’t wait to satisfy their sweet tooth.

There are commentators in our industry who believe that the problems of marketing in the 21st century are evidence of teams run by people who cannot wait for longer term rewards of sustained business metrics. They’re addicted to immediate gratification in the shape, not of marshmallows, but of short term digital metrics.

Has our industry failed the marshmallow test?

Last century immediate metrics of success in media were hard to come by. Audience measurement was available increasingly speedily, but the outcomes of success in terms of business took time to assess.

Google put an end to waiting. One of the revolutions that paid search delivered was only paying for click through. An immediate outcome with minimum risk. As the internet revolution overall took hold a whole host of immediately measurable results became available to digital practitioners, and only with time came the understanding that these metrics themselves have some flaws. And short term delivery does not always mean long term growth.

Binet and Field’s latest dive into the IPA databank calls more businesses to invest longer term. Their initial conclusion was that every business should invest 60% of their comms budgets in long term branding. Now amended by sector the new analysis stretches the recommendations for some sectors to 70-90%.

Why do so many find this difficult to adhere to? Part of the reason is unquestionably the board/brand divide. IPA/FT research reveals that whilst top boards value brands in theory (after all they have a proven value on their balance sheets) they admit that they don’t understand brand building or media.

Another reason may well be the addiction to short term targets. Easy to set, easy to game, easy to achieve. Great for an instant endorphin rush of satisfaction. Not necessarily so great for brand building, or for the public’s outlook on advertising in general as ISBA and the AA have demonstrated. Are there fewer people around who have the patience to wait for that second marshmallow?

There’s a lot of debate about how to recruit into our industry. Job descriptions are being reviewed for gender bias. Interviews are proven not to be a guarantee of successful recruitment.

While this debate is ongoing maybe we should add another dimension.
Maybe this should be the new recruitment test. One treat now or two in fifteen minutes. For brands to continue to thrive we must break that addiction to achieving short term targets or we are in danger of running brands into the ground and losing the heritage built across generations.


How to stop fighting fires and start building great work

September 6th, 2019

siloTogether we can do so much.

Agencies and marketers need to be more careful than ever to get rid of silos in campaign development.

Things go wrong when there are silos.

Here’s two reasons why:

First of all silos mean that the right people aren’t always in the decision making room at the right time.

In her assessment of the recent Centrica review, group CMO Margaret Jobling astutely said that the days of “channels and everybody operating in splendid isolation is well gone”.  She pointed out that “It is no longer clear where, for example, media and content creation start and stop”

Often what happens as a matter of course is that media and creative might be briefed together, but then creative tissue sessions may go ahead without media people present (and should not).  Media strategy and execution meetings may exclude the creatives (and should not).  We shouldn’t be separating the medium and the message in this way because the medium is the message and so this common practice is not only anachronistic it is damaging.

At planning and development stages of creation of work there is no such thing any more as a creative meeting that the media experts shouldn’t go to.  There is no such thing any more as a media meeting that doesn’t need creative input.

The damaging result of this siloed behaviour is that too much time is spent fighting fires.

The job of many senior managers too often revolves around making sure that a situation that has begun to go off course is retrieved and sorted out.  Those fires that start because the media people and creative people are not close enough during the ad campaign’s development process are so easily avoidable.

The more the senior people of any organisation spend time fighting fires (and some time is surely inevitable) the less good work is done.  It slows you down and that’s not a good idea in an industry that’s changing and transforming as fast as this one.

The second problem is that when you work in silos, you end up encouraging anachronistic thinking that harms the work; our industry is awash with heritage practices, and one of the most debilitating is the way in which agencies have been built on the basis of competing with each other, even when they are NOT in competition.

Division rarely makes any work better.   Tribal divisions are detrimental, with one tribe regarding other disciplines as “other”.  Sometimes this leads to fear and disrespect.  For the future of great work we must fight against these demarcations and make everyone a part of the team and every type of thinking belong.

This means not sticking in your role.  If the media practitioner is confined to engineering the pipes through which the creative flows then that’s not good enough (and vice versa).  Stick your nose, and your opinion in every aspect of the work.   Diversity and belonging isn’t just an issue of appearance, race, religion or heritage.  It is also an issue for different types of thinking and professional background.

Collaboration is much talked about – easier to talk about than to deliver.   Working together takes effort, but that effort is more than worthwhile, and indeed is essential in light of the complexity of today’s communications environment.

In my experience great work, the work that grows brands, comes from teams that work together without silos.


A crucial call to action for every planner today

August 2nd, 2019

marilyn-monroe-399194_1920The medium is the message.

This is the most famous quotation from 1960s philosopher Marshall McLuhan.  McLuhan coined the term to explain how content is interpreted differently in different media.  He argued that the context makes a difference.  Many observers are currently rediscovering this.

At its simplest we know that the same advert for a diamond earring would get a different reaction if seen in Vogue Magazine or in refinery29.  In one it would be considered really expensive.  In another a nice bit of bling.

As well as the obvious prestige or accessibility provided by the immediate environment McLuhan cited the sensory differences of different media.  A “hot” medium does the work for you – for example the Avengers movie, you can just sit in front of it and soak it up; a “cold” medium requires that you do the work – for example The Economist, you need to concentrate.  These definitions may be now outdated and too binary, but what is true is that the medium in which the message is received is crucial to a good comms strategy.

In addition “cheap” mass reach, with no consideration to the environment, frequency or channel, can be costly.  The Advertising Association have provided evidence that ad bombardment is eroding audience trust.  As Robert Rakowitz put it in his call to action for media sustainability, “reach at no cost is reach at all cost, what we need is reach with responsibility”.

The medium is the message is even more true now.  The media are not just a vehicle or delivery system for ad messages.  Media are also where people complain about customer service.  It is a widely held belief amongst the informed public that the best and quickest way to get a response to a customer complaint is to tweet about it.

Its where people share their pride in a new purchase, or look for inspiration for what to buy next.

A one size fits all approach to this on the basis of last click attribution is both naïve and potentially harmful to the brand.  As MediaCom’s  Richard Davies explains this is nonsense:  “Man wakes up with a terrible hangover, blames the last drink he had, the glass of water by his bed.”

The medium is where people shop, where they request samples and also where they dream, plan and collaborate.  All of this must surely be of consideration when the copy for the advertising is planned.

There is no time in the history of media planning when it has been more significant to understand and consider the role of the medium in terms of its impact on the intended message from advertisers.


Disruption is not driven by tech. Disruption is driven by dissatisfied customers.

July 23rd, 2019

twNew technologies come and go, and always have done.  The ones that stick around and disrupt our businesses are the ones that consumers choose to adopt.  As Harvard Business School Professor Thales S.Teixeira writes: “The most common and pervasive pattern of disruption is driven by customers.”  When businesses focus on customer needs and wants they respond far more effectively, time and again, than when they only focus on technology.

So, for MediaCom’s second annual Transformation Week, back by popular demand, we had a firm focus on humans not only on tech,  a focus on putting people first for better results in fact.  The people buying our clients’ goods or services, and the people working for, and also leading, their businesses.

The week opened with new research from the IPA jointly with the FT who interviewed their readers worldwide to see how much they truly understand the important work of the marketing community.  Is there a disconnect with the executive boards in terms of appreciating and valuing the task of creating marketing effectiveness?  Should we, and can we, as a community that values marketing, disrupt their lack of insight and transform their understanding in order to ensure that those responsible for the overall health of business understand that marketing is an investment for the longterm? (Yes, we should).

The week’s sessions, created by MediaCom and by our brilliant partners across the industry, offered rich insight into every crucial aspect of transformation with workshops, presentations, some “rock-star” talent on show and fresh research.  Sessions included a discussion of sustainability, a new topic for Transformation Week 2019, but one which has hurtled to the forefront of consumer concerns.  ITV are took us into the heart of Love Island and commercial partnership, and Sky shared with us how they’ve harnessed transformation in measurement for AV.    Reach brought the Brexit Debate to Red Lion Square, with Britain Talks participants recreating the live debate across the nation.  (What happens when strangers meet and discuss politics ?  They certainly don’t agree, but they do find that they have more in common than they thought.)  Verizon brought alive the real business transformation that 5G is heralding.  Stylist showed how they are literally going from strength to strength with a new exercise studio venture.  They called too for a transformation in the depiction of a diverse set of women in advertising to match their editorial position.  Theobalds Road Consulting (MediaCom’s own consultancy start up), together with Code took participants through a fun and educational workshop on Voice, where Alexa herself participated.

There was much much more than this, including a consultation on the future of Out of Home and two takes on the enduring power of radio with Chris Evans and Dave Berry.

MediaCom Edinburgh held a Transformation session on purpose.

Data suggests that we’re all on a journey as far as benefitting from truly diverse teams throughout every level of management and colleagues.  An important question for me is Diversity 2.0, what needs to happen next? A “fishbowl” debate on this closed the sessions on Thursday pm.

New WPP research has defined the 7 levers of growth, and an expert panel discussed these and the typical barriers to business growth, how to build for innovation and how to overcome the typical traps along the way.  Although disruption is customer led, digital preparedness is crucial – how do you assess where you are on this spectrum?  MediaCom’s Theobalds Road Consultancy is at hand to offer help with defining new pathways to growth and delivering “people first” transformation.



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.