Archive for September, 2013

The medium is the message – truer today than when McLuhan said it.

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Many of the senior people who I work with started in the planning game when there weren’t that many media to plan.  TV, Print, Radio, Outdoor, Cinema.

A staple chart from those days used in way too many presentations (and which I hated, but was made to include more often than I would have liked) had a tick box to drive media choice by understanding the role of media.  Is it intrusive ? Is it visual ? (not so great for radio then that one).  Is it empathetic ?  Does it have stand out?  I can’t actually remember all the questions people used to ask but I know why it annoyed me.  The answer was usually really not a tick or cross but “well actually it depends on exactly, precisely how you’re using it and what you’re using it for.  So yes print can be intrusive if you use it intrusively.  And outdoor can fail to have stand out if you fail to make it stand out.  How many ads stood out for you last time you walked round the block ?

The catch all planning grid did not take into account how real media insight could drive great communications.  Although it won many creative awards the brilliance of “Hello Boys” truly lay in the media selection.  If it had been planned on the basis of efficient reach of bra buyers it might have run exclusively in women’s magazines.  Placing it at roadside drove fame and visibility and allowed the impact of the creative work full scope.

Now you can no longer list all the candidate media on the fingers of one hand.  Nor do most people apply cretinous catch all questions to their selection.  But I wonder if we are all, always, really taking into consideration that each medium is a medium in its own right, and using its unique characteristics to fuel effective insight.

So cinema isn’t cinema it’s a different medium depending on type of movie, time of day and of course technology.  The Women’s Aid 3d ad that ran in cinema last year came from an insight about how 3d tech works (one eye sees a different image from the other one), and the planner then made the leap into what happens if you “turn a blind eye” to violence against women.  Analysis of Twitter patterns during TV ad breaks has proved and quantified what we have long instinctively believed :  that an ad in Homeland isn’t the same as an ad broadcast in XFactor as far as viewer behaviour is concerned.  Video on demand isn’t the same medium as TV. Vine isn’t FB video isn’t TV sponsorship credits.   Does anyone really want to watch ads on YouTube or is it a medium for sharing and peer recommendations ? An ad in newspapers online isn’t the same medium as the print paper.  When there are new technologies fuelling innovation in media we don’t really see the benefit necessarily at first.  The beautiful applications that the second screen are fuelling for TV as an immediate point of sale have been talked about for a lot longer than they have been apparent.  There is more to the second screen than selling pizzas on Saturday night.  The latest in DOOH wont come of age until we really understand the differentiated consumer insight it delivers.

Marshall McLuhan, a communications guru of early advertising, notoriously said that the medium is the message.  For the best strategies over the decades he has been proved true time and again.  Now more than ever we must be precise in the briefing of the role of each medium and work with creative developers that genuinely “get” the medium.


What is the spirit of the times ?

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

My regular readers will be aware of the reasons that I missed Google’s annual Zeitgeist festival again. (NFI)  However I don’t like to miss out on the spirit of the times and the highlight video from the event is open to everyone to view. (Theme – Rethink and Reset including: “Do we want a society where everything is up for sale?”; “Emotional fitness”; “Music as storytelling”; “You can never leave footprints that last if you’re only walking on tiptoe”; “There are no countries where the arrival of the internet has made things worse”).

Of course I like to have my own view on the spirit of the times and a good place to start is with teens.  Its therefore excellent that there is a new report from MediaCom’s Real World Insight : “Real World Teens”.  This generation of teens have some significantly different behaviours in some respects to previous teens.  They’re the connected natives and behave quite differently with their mobile phones for example.  They grew up with them, they haven’t adopted them like their mums and dads did.  They’re more intimate with them (never without them) and they share more.

Technology is definitely driving  FOMO – fear of missing out.  “Nomophobia” – fear of not having a mobile phone on you –  exhibits itself via constant status updates and checking of mobiles.  FOMO clearly can exist without the technology – if you’ve ever longed to go to a party or after party and lingered until the desire to be included becomes just embarrassing then you’ve suffered FOMO.  However the tech exacerbates the malady significantly.  66% of teens always check their mobile when they wake up and 63% always check it when they go to bed.

Its not all about FOMO of course.  Teenage years have always been very emotional and transitional years as you grow from dependence to independence and often yo yo between the two.  But today’s teens are very conscious as a generation of the pressure on them to get educated (at their own expense after school), to find a career not just a job, and to move away from home.  Our report suggest that they seem less to be revelling in the freedom of those years and more anxiously looking forward with mixed feelings.

There seems less YOLO than FOMO.  And perhaps  that anxious spirit of the times is best expressed for all of us by the dominant slogan on mugs, cards, and plaques all over the place.  “Keep calm and…..”


The essential components of a brilliant strategy.

Friday, September 13th, 2013

The 3 essential components of a brilliant strategy are Tactics, Tactics and Tactics.

Speaking as a strategist I can categorically state that it doesn’t matter how beautiful and effective the strategy is in principle.  Until it is executed, with effective tactics, it is nothing but froth.

Dave Trott takes great pride in his new book “Predatory Thinking” in announcing himself as a tactician not a strategist.  He says “Strategy is the big picture.  Tactics are the little pictures that make up the big picture. “

It’s the partnership between the two that delivers.  Nothing is delivered without a  brilliant team with a strategist to set the overall “how” and a set of excellent tacticians to deliver the “what”.

I experienced this first hand up a ladder over the last bank holiday weekend.  We have a boat which has given us huge pleasure over the past few summers but which is now up for sale.

We had an email from the boat yard that unfortunately the boat’s canopy had come undone and that she was open to the elements.  I found myself therefore balanced precariously 6 feet up a ladder with the problem of remedying the situation singlehandedly.  My strategy was clear.  Recover the canopy and secure with new ties.  This involved standing on the very edge of the boat and heaving at a canopy that is heavy and several times bigger than me.  Because I’m not really big enough to pull a boat canopy up and back by myself.  Had the boat been in the water I would have probably been fine as I don’t mind falling in the river.  But the boat is on blocks on hard standing.  It was raining.  It was windy.  And it wobbled.  The bloke in the nearby chandlery wouldn’t help me (couldn’t leave the shop).  It looked like a two person job to me (maybe even 3 small persons).  But then (when I looked like I was going to get emotional) he presented me with the necessary tactic to do the job on my own.  Obvious to him (and maybe to you) but not to me, he explained that I needed to climb into the boat, and push the canopy up over my head from inside the stability and safety of the cockpit rather than heave it towards me from the narrow, wet and slippery gunwales (for my gunwales were awash).  This I managed to do and in the wind and rain of Saturday afternoon I fixed the situation.

Of course the job of the strategist is not only to set the big picture, but to ensure that the tactics deliver against it.  I love working with brilliant tacticians.  The best tacticians are generous, inventive and great at keeping the elements from doing their worst.


How to fix problems that are festering.

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Have you ever been in a meeting where you felt unable to say what you were really thinking because you knew that it would be unpopular?

You know the scenario.  You’re sitting there with an opinion that differs from the consensus.  Perhaps you have some inside knowledge of what’s really going on.  Or a strong instinct that doing what the louder voices in the meeting believe is right would be … well … just wrong.

But you can be frightened to speak out – to say what you believe is the truth – because you think it will put you under pressure to conform, and perhaps end up with you being squashed.

Have you ever swallowed your words only to then watch as the problem you kept quiet about just builds and builds?

Margaret Heffernan, author and ceo,  gave a talk on just this subject on  radio about her experience running a major US company and being firmly told not to tell the truth by her advisors.  She believes that the desire for senior executives to smooth over problems and not face up to the truth of bad situations is one of the key problems with business and her speech praised the value of whistleblowers and dissenters.

She points out that when you do speak up in the situations I have described you are nearly always saying something that everyone is thinking anyway.  Once the problem is out in the open you can do something about it.  The role of senior management is to create a situation of trust where dissenters are heard, and where the option to zig where everyone else is zagging doesn’t carry the risk of ridicule or dismissal.

Without a culture where people can take the risk of speaking up you can’t fix anything.

Heffernan quotes research that says that up to 85% of business people fear that they can’t tell the truth, either through fear of retribution (predominant in the US) or because there isn’t any point (the UK reaction).

We need to celebrate our dissenters, and cherish those who point out what is going unspoken.  Without Telling the Truth we end up with unbelievable spin and that’s as true in our day to day working lives as it is in our communications strategies for brands.  For more on truth telling for brands my book’s still available on Amazon if you haven’t read it yet.

Next time you’re in a meeting where you feel that there is a truth that isn’t being said then speak up. Disturbing the equilibrium, rocking the boat may have consequences.  So does silence.