Sick of fake news

November 12th, 2018

Rs-5-Crore-Penalty-For-Writing-Fake-News-SocialpostFake news is everywhere, swaying politics, election results, public opinion.

Fake news permeates our business too.

You only need to attend a conference or browse your Twitter feed to come across media business fake news, such as, for example:

“Brands are dead.”

At a recent panel (Chatham House Rules) there was a fellow panellist who said that brands were dead.  Dead?  Really?  No Marmite in your cupboard then?  No Heinz tomato ketchup on your chips?  No Landrover in your drive?  As the recent Thinkbox research “From Brand to Bland: what happens when you take away people’s favourite brands?” shows brands are as crucial to real people as ever.  The crafty people at Thinkbox took away the branding from people’s favourite products and then gave them back to them.  The respondents were all extremely disappointed with their unbranded products.  They all said the flavour had gone, or the efficacy wasn’t as good.  And were unanimous in their disbelief when the researchers owned up.    Brands dead.  I don’t think so.

The over-riding example of fake news however today is this one:

“Data will bring more accountability.”

The promise of more data in media was clear.  There would be more accountability, more certainty, less assumption.  As Eaon Pritchard points out in the new APG book “Eat your Greens, fact based thinking to improve your brand’s health” the promises in digital media have fallen long short of expectations.  Pritchard writes: “social media marketing, content marketing, qr codes (remember them), VR/AR, chatbots, programmatic deliver and adtech have all arrived, been heralded as “the next big thing” then gradually landed in a ditch of disappointment.  He concludes “a decent rule of thumb would be to demand that the more extraordinary the claim of any tech platform of gizmo the stronger the evidence must be to support that claim”.

As MediaCom’s CDDO, Ben Rickard likes to reference: “people say that data is the new oil.  I would agree, it is exactly like oil.  If it is unrefined then it is just a slippery mess.”

We were promised that viewing figures for video online would be more accurate than just BARB could deliver with its panel of only thousands, who counted as viewers just if they were in the room with the TV on.  How could information from millions of data points be less accurate?  Easily.  If you compare the definition of a view by BARB (at least 50% of the ad) with that of a view on social media which might be for just 3 seconds.  How did we get ourselves into this?

Here’s another one:

“Media context means nothing”.

After all, if an advertiser can reach an individual via accurate behavioural targeting, just after they’ve searched for a particular product, what would it matter where the ad ran?  Quite a lot as it turns out.  A credible, safe environment means so much more than perhaps many people really ever understood as these technologies were developed.

Media people, it’s time for a reset.  Time for truth to overcome fake news.  Time to call time on claims that have little basis in fact. Change is inevitable, nonsense claims are not.



“What’s in it for you?”

October 3rd, 2018

wiifm1If you read this blog, you’ll have a better chance of being promoted, paid more, liked more, going home early.

Got your attention?

“What’s in it for you?” as a strategy is in fact short term and unsustainable for marketing, for management and finally for life.

“What’s in it for you?” can be a successful short term marketing tactic (buy one get one free; text for the chance to win; free lip gloss with every sku) that can lead to a race to the bottom.

When you’re the first to market with this tactic you can gain temporary advantage.  When you begin to rely on it because all the competitive brands in your sector do it to drive share or sales then you’re in a race to the bottom.

A strong brand doesn’t have to discount its way into the shopping basket.  Brand strength is one of the true paybacks of successful long term marketing.  The case studies that are rewarded in this year’s IPA effectiveness awards which I had the honour of judging are full of strong stories about building distinctiveness and driving effectiveness beyond the short term drug of discounting.  The databank is full of still more.

“What’s in it for me” can be a way of managing staff.  Open bar, summer picnic, free biscuits.  Tick off all your tasks and expect a reward.   Of course, staff need fun, rest and relaxation but a culture where you treat them like pets being trained to perform with treats or toddlers with a star chart doesn’t develop them or grow your business.

And what if you do want them to do something without reward, over and above the job description?  If the culture is one of performing seals purely acting in the hope of a fish then your chances of this are slim.

A strong team is made of individuals who look out for each other, not a collection of people who only act if there is something in it for them.  People don’t just act selfishly.  We’re not just in it for ourselves.  The collective matters, the team matters, and good managers find ways to encourage and reward good team citizenship over and above striving for personal reward.

Not all managers do this.  There are managers who will set their deputies the task of competing with each other for praise and promotion.  The best response to this is to point out that there’s plenty of competition outside the organisation, wasting energy on internal competition in a hideous and pale parody of Game of Thrones is a misuse of time and energy.

Of course there must a reward exchange.  There needs to be something in it for you.  But if it’s the first and only criteria then the outcomes won’t be pretty.  If you’re hooked on that “What’s in it for me?” hamster wheel professionally or personally, then it’s time to get off and start considering the bigger picture.  There are many ways you can behave at work which will help others.  Don’t be a bystander when you witness unfairness, speak up for the overlooked, the bullied or the silenced.  Or sign up here to be a gamechanger for disability in Scope’s new initiative.

What’s in it for you?  A real reason to get up and go to work happy.



Transforming attitudes to age

September 10th, 2018


Most businesses have a strategy for transformation, and if they don’t probably need one.

When so much is changing and so fast it’s easy to assume that the old guard need clearing out.

However it’s a mistake to assume that everything must change. If you lose perspective and all the experience from the team you are more likely to throw the baby out with the bath water.

At recent judging of effectiveness awards several people commented that there was a great richness of material proving the value of old school branding practices.

Transformation these days may well include restoring well worn paths to excellence that have made way to trendy tactics that still require rigorous proof of concept.

In our industry we may be at risk of losing that perspective.

Take your own team for example, does your team come close to matching the population profile by age?

Most of us think the ad industry is ageist.

1 in 4 respondents to an industry survey last year said that they’d been told that they were too old for a new job.

Age is another face of diversity. Some businesses don’t allow people to contribute if they don’t fit and don’t look the part, and age, like gender, class, sexuality, mental health, disability, and ethnicity is another aspect of exclusion.

This is the real point. The problem is that some businesses are too homogeneous. A good culture allows for diversity.

If everyone in the office is required to be laddish (and some of the team are not) then some people feel excluded and the result can be overall bad team dynamics.

If everyone is required to be suited booted and formal, then that quells the fun and experimental spirit essential to a growth mentality.

Management shouldn’t dictate. You can only create the environment that allows everyone to be themselves.

Of course there’s a contract here between team members. You need everyone to deliver as required, to respect differences, to acknowledge each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and to partner for the strongest outcome.

Earlier this summer The Marketing Society held a debate about ageism.

The Marketing Society chief exec Gemma Greaves finished by saying: “I am not a fan of any isms”. Gemma is right. Ageism is yet another ugly face of forced conformity which stifles difference and limits potential.

In today’s business world no one can afford to waste time on reinventing the wheel or energy on pretending to be anything other than themselves. True value is created when team members complement each other. In my blogs about gender I have pointed out the overwhelming disparity between the proportion of women making decisions, directing adverts or taking commercial photos and the proportion of women in the population and shopping decisions made by women. Disposable income sits disproportionately in the wallets of the over 50s, and this is growing. There is plenty of evidence that older people feel misrepresented in advertising comms. Is an equivalent disparity to blame?

The debate about ageism in advertising is alive and well, although maybe a bit tired. It would perhaps like to have a cup of tea on the sofa and a nice afternoon nap. Whoops, there I go being ageist.

Never mind the baby, let’s not throw experience out with the bath water.


What happened at MediaCom’s Transformation Week 2018?

August 20th, 2018

DSC_15535 days

24 presentations

21 partners‎

35 presenters

1,400 attendees

Our first transformation week at MediaCom happened as our English summer transformed into baking heat.

Charles Darwin said “it’s not the strongest or the most intelligent that survive, but those most responsive to change”.  Stephen Hawking said: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

Change is unavoidable, changes are accelerating, but we need to make sure that the pace of change is appropriate and focussed.

Our transformation week agenda was focussed around our clients’ priorities from the turn of year questionnaire.  We invited the nation’s best media owners to partner with us in addressing them.

From the rich territory of these priorities one week’s transformation festival was created.  (The topics are: Agility; AI; Voice; Creativity; Data; Diversity; GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft); Millennials/GenZ; Purpose/Meaning; Ecommerce).

5 key trends for 2018/19 were clear.

Trend 1: If you stand still, you go backwards.

85% business leaders state that innovation is crucial, but delivering effective innovation is tough.  11 years ago there was a step change year for tech.  2007 was a year of real traction for fb, iphone, Amazon Web Services, big data and open source coding.  Pundits predict that a similar year of step change is imminent in terms of frictionless tech development adoption.  The disruptors are coming in every market.  No-one can think that they’re exempt.  Standing still is not an option.

The customer is in charge.

I know you’ve heard that the customer is king, and queen, (and the grand of duke of York for that matter!) before.  This time it’s different.  This time the customer isn’t standing for sub-standard service, unsubstantiated spin, or shoddy standards.  User Experience is inextricable from the Brand.  Businesses must take care to swerve the traps of path dependence and dabbling.  Ruthless focus about what to trial will separate the winners from the also ran.  Those brands that offer the customer what they want, when they want it and how they want it will triumph over the rest of the category.  They’ll almost inevitably create more data for their business in the process.  Which leads me to the third trend.

Trend 3: Be data informed not a data junkie.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  Our speakers emphasised that whilst there are lots of data sources that can be vital intelligence to progress, and that algorithms can help to build better relationships with customers, there’s a danger that once you start looking at data feeds you mistake them for knowledge.  Data might be the new oil, to quote CDDO Ben Rickard, but only in the sense that its toxic unless you refine it.

Trend 4: Agile ways of working drive results.

A shift to more adaptive ways of working can reap impressive rewards in terms of productivity.  A shift in mindset from planning for perfect to planning to deliver a minimum viable product in the least amount of time that you can then beta test and learn from can take days or even weeks of people hours costs out of projects. An approach of build, measure, learn, adapt, measure, learn means brilliant never stops.

Our final trend is about the surprising truth about creativity. Exclusivity gives way to empowerment.  An open access approach to working with all kinds of people and partners creates power and energy for brands.

With enormous thanks to all our speakers, partners and delegates.  The transformation continues.








The new and unprecedented challenge for brands

August 2nd, 2018

startrekpicTo boldly go, where no brand has gone before.

Brands are facing an existential threat like no other.  Exactly how it will play out and how soon the question.  As Twitter’s Bruce Daisley said on MediaCom’s Connected Podcast recently (and out soon here), it’s impossible to predict the next twenty years, just as twenty years ago we had no idea about what life and work would be like today.  Yet we can be clear about one thing.  There’s change to come that will make navigating the challenges of today look easy.

You can point the finger at Star Trek for some of this disruption. It’s Captain Kirk who inspired one of the great changes that will challenge current orthodoxies about brands.  William Tunstall-Pedoe is the engineer and tech start up founder who taught Amazon’s Alexa how to talk.  He acknowledges that his inspiration was the talking computer on the Star Ship Enterprise.  His definition of his job as an engineer is to close the gap between science fiction and reality.  Of course Captain Kirk’s relationship with the computer running the star ship was largely benign.  (There was the episode with the evil computer Nomad, but Kirk talked it down, luckily for the galaxy).

Tunstall-Pedoe is optimistic about the future of voice.  In future everything that you do via tech you will do simply by asking.  Already millions of households worldwide have voice tech products.  Many people have already made them part of the family, anthropomorphically telling them good night.  What this means is more change.  Tunstall-Pedoe notes that all change means risk, but urges keeping risk in perspective and believes that voice tech will change people’s lives for the better.

We must all hope that the risks will be managed, that malware will stay under control and that change will be for the good.  At the same time we must plan for the worst.

In the world of media and marketing one of the worst outcomes may be the disappearance of some brands.

We have been through several eras of advertising.  In the 1950s we were in the age of interruption, when consumers were happy to pay attention to ads because they sought the reassurance of brand names and trusted what businesses said to them.  From the 1960s to the 1980s we were in the age of entertainment.  People would still pay attention to ads but only if they were entertaining.  For the last couple of decades of the 20th century we were in the age of engagement.  The rise in media channels meant that reaching people at the right time in the right place with the right message was key to successful comms.  The early 21st century was the dawn of the age of dialogue where millions of dialogues between consumers shapes their opinions of brands.  Where what a brand says about itself is just one factor in brand salience together with every other aspect of the customer journey from search, social, influencers, reviews, sourcing, authenticity, employee brand, service and experience to repeat purchase and loyalty.

Most purchase journeys are still predominantly visual.  Brands are designed with those visual cues in mind.  If voice dominates things change.  Maybe only the strongest brands will survive.  There will be categories where consumers defer to the voice tech assistant.  The question to ask is what is it about the brand that will ensure that it continues to cut through.  To be one of the brands that stick in the consumer’s brain so that they don’t just buy the category they buy the brand.

Voice will shift the balance of power and techniques to thrive will be essential.  As Mr Spock pointed out “Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them.” 

Brand strategy now must plan for the worst to ensure that the brand survives.