Archive for January, 2011

Military Strategy has lessons for communication strategy

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

The current argument about the Afghan war and the deployment of troops between the former head of the army and the former ambassador to Afghanistan gives us three things to watch out for when making judgements about deploying resources for a communications strategy.

The row – which you can read more about at – centres on whether the army was fit for purpose between 2006 and 2008, particularly on whether the right resource was in place at the right time.

Since this is what media planning basically boils down to it is salutary to look a little at the debate from such a different arena.

In a concise interview on last week’s Today programme, former director general at the Ministry of Defence Rear Admiral Chris Parry, discussed the key issues.

There were three lessons that clearly come out from this.

One of the parties involved in the row has suggested that the army saw the conflict as a raison d’etre – a claim strongly refuted by the army chief at the time. So beware vested interests when it comes down to deciding resource. If there is a series of separate agencies involved with an integrated communications plan then you must ensure a media neutral expert is involved in making the decision about which media are needed and which are not.

Parry acknowledged that the current army leaders positively “encourage dissent” – whilst suggesting that this was not always the case in the past. Our lesson here is to ensure that the team has room and space to challenge each other. Nodding agreement to everything in the room usually means there is not whole hearted alignment in private. For communications strategies to really work, the team must truly align. You can’t achieve this unless you encourage challenge.

Thirdly and most importantly beware over-analysis. Learning from past conflict is critical. Yet learning from the past can be given too much emphasis. With no vested interests at all involved it is still possible to become so wrapped up in understanding what went on in the past that it is impossible to think about the future. Empiricism is a valuable thing but speculation is essential too. As Parry pointed out the desire to “perfect the last day of the previous conflict rather than look ahead to the next one” gets you precisely nowhere.

Behold Scatter Cushion Computing

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Deloitte, the hosts of the Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions 2011, were very careful to mandate “Chatham House” rules at their launch event in London this week.

Peter O’Donoghue, Predictions Lead Partner, said “No blogging, no tweeting and no Facebook Status updating” as he welcomed us to the overview; which seemed to cover most of the possibilities. This is actually a pity as the discussion from the panel was great value.

I’ve attended previous Predictions events and this one – on its tenth anniversary – was the most fascinating so far. This is partly because of the lively contributions from the panel (which I can’t talk about, sorry). Partly because of the interesting nature of the next 12 months of media with the advent of new challenges. And partly because the report merged developments in the three sectors of Technology, Media and Telecoms and made links between the trends in each. Deloitte’s view, rightly, is that the three are so inextricably linked that they must be considered in conjunction. And for those who have expertise in media, seeing the trends from Tech and Telecom is very insightful.

I am allowed however to report their most significant trend – the advent of Scatter Cushion Computing. Deloitte predicts that in 2011 more than 50% of computing devices sold globally (over 400 million units) will not be PCs. These smartphones, tablets and netbooks will use different and non-standard processing chips and operating systems which will lead to challenges in connecting up your different devices. It also means that they think that the sitting room may well contain more “computers” of one kind or another (games consoles, set top boxes, smartphones, tablets, kindles etc) than cushions.

This may lead to more distractions from the TV. But it will more likely emphasise the role of TV as the new point of sale for advertisers as the ability to order a product while watching the advert immediately proliferates.

For more predictions see

Beware Truthiness and Proofiness

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Truth in communications and marketing is like a treacle covered magnet. We are drawn to it and its very sticky. When we are introduced to truthful ideas we talk about them and spread them around.
Truthiness on the other hand (it is a real word by the way – it was Word of the Year according to the American Dialect Society in 2005) is something to beware of. Truthinesses are concepts or facts which we would prefer to be true but are in fact not. That is they are lies. Should I boast that I played netball for my school (but fail to mention that it was one game, once, in the b team) that is a truthiness.

The worst sort of rabble rousing journalism thrives on Truthiness, loving front page headlines and dark leader columns that manipulate reality to deliver emotional diatribes beloved by the masses. Xenophobia, racism and the idea that the country has gone to the dogs are all fed by Truthiness.

The numerical equivalent of Truthiness, which is very often used to back it up is Proofiness. This is the skill of using statistics to substantiate what we would like to be true but is actually not really. Charles Seife (an American writer and academic see ) has just published a book that examines the many ways people fudge numbers to sell ideas.
He explains that numbers impress us, chuck the right meaningless statistic into a conversation and you can swing the argument in your favour. There are three main kinds of Proofiness : Potemkin numbers; Disestimation and Fruit Packing.

Potemkin numbers are phony statistics – for the historians amongst you the reference is about Russian minister Grigory Potemkin who erected fake villages with empty facades in Crimea in the eighteenth century to fool the Empress Catherine into a false idea of the prosperity of the region. Disestimation are numbers that don’t take account of statistical significance in their accuracy – too much meaning is placed on a measurement – for example the kind of presentation where a tv campaign is vilified for not meeting specific targets that would call for a level of accuracy that ignores the facts of life and the capabilities of BARB. And then Fruit Packing – where you highlight the statistics that win your argument by shining the surface and stacking them on top. Buyer beware as the bag of stuff you take home will have worms and rotten apples.

What’s next?

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Here’s my prediction for 2011. The brands that will be most successful this year are those that tell the truth.

It’s the next phase in the Age of Dialogue that we at MediaCom have been talking about for three or four years now. The conversations that consumers are having about brands and products are not diminishing. Instead they are getting louder and faster.

If you tell the truth, not only is it easier to make every part of your communication package integrated at every stage (ie pr, ads, after sales service etc), but you will gain a competitive advantage. If you spin the truth too far and your audience catch you out then they will find it hard to forgive you.

Telling the truth can work in a number of ways. It can be about a big emotional truth in the way that T-Mobile’s Life is for Sharing taps into a big human need to share events. It can be about a pragmatic truth as NatWest’s Helpful Banking describes its goal to be the most helpful bank. The truth can be a personal and specific one – adserving enables a brand to talk to you personally and deliver a specific message for you that differs from the one sent to your neighbour. And real time planning means that the message can be immediately relevant to you today.

There is no reason that truth telling can’t be commercial and entertaining.  Remember Steve Jobs public apology for the iphone 4 reception problems last summer? This is a marked contrast with other brands in the sector, but very true to the values that Apple has been investing in for decades.  Apple have managed to deliver innovative products which both entertain and are commercially successful. Their army of advocates means they can be reassured that any online criticism is usually drowned by a chorus of fans. 

Not every brand will want to commit to the same level of fallibility as Apple but what advertising mustn’t do is exaggerate or overclaim. If you buy a product that doesn’t live up to its advertising, you will easily find a chorus of disapproval online to join.

The message for 2011 is to stop selling the sizzle and start marketing the steak. Make sure that the dialogues the consumers are having about your brand are fuelled by reality rather than by fantasy and hype.