Archive for October, 2013

Alex Ferguson could turn off the hair dryer

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

The commentators are buzzing about Ferguson’s new autobiography.  Of course most of the comments are about hair dryer treatment, rifts and acrimony.  Henry Winter, the Telegraph’s football correspondent says “The main victim of Sir Alex Ferguson’s new book is Roy Keane, who receives far more than the hairdryer treatment.  He gets savaged.”

In addition the David Beckham incident is detailed of course.  When Beckham reacted badly to criticism Ferguson writes : “As usual, with David at that time, he was dismissive ..
He was around 12 feet from me. David swore. I moved towards him, and as I approached I kicked a boot. It hit him right above the eye. He rose to have a go at me and the players stopped him. ‘Sit down,’ I said. ‘You’ve let your team down. You can argue as much as you like.’  I called him in the next day to go through the video and he still would not accept his mistake.  The next day, the story was in the press. It was in those days that I told the board David had to go.”
This black and white treatment is natural from an individual who was schooled in management in the Scottish second division in the eighties.  Of course Ferguson could be hard line with those players.  They were on about thirty quid a week and couldn’t afford to walk out or have tantrums.  Yet as Manchester United became more and more successful Ferguson was managing players earning millions.  Under the scrutiny of the media.  Of course he had more to him and his management style than the hair dryer.
I believe one essential  ingredient to his successful management style was authenticity.  Ferguson features in my book “Tell the Truth, honesty is your most powerful marketing tool.”  We describe the 2010 Rooney shock news when the story broke that he was intending to leave United, and not just for any team but for Manchester City.  The media was aflame and Rooney received death threats from fans.  Ferguson’s reaction was sterling.  He spoke so authentically to the public and not only defused the situation but turned it to his advantage in a “truth turning point” moment.  In a world where powerful players are surrounded by toadies and yes men and women imagine the advantage that speaking authentically would deliver.
You can compare Ferguson’s old style of management, of dealing with less powerful players in the last century, with marketing to consumers in a broad sense.  In the old days brands could get away with treating consumers as if all the power was on their side, with impatience, even with contempt.  These days when the power has shifted into the hands and pockets of the consumer, when the consumer has the ability to shop around for prices and information at the touch of a few clicks on their tablet or smart phone, brands need to speak authentically.  This is where long term competitive advantage lies.




“The young are a different species”

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Mark Earls thinks that this is nonsense. In fact “The young are a different species” is Mark Earls’ number 2 nonsense thing in his recent Twitter compilation of top marketing nonsense. The brilliant author of “Herd” has compiled a list of marketing ideas that are doing the rounds that he thinks are rubbish.  I agree that his number 1 nonsense that “TV is dead” is patently nonsense.  I agree with The Herdmeister that number 2 is a wild overstatement and generalisation.  Yet it is worth thinking about as changes in technology do affect us. Maybe, just maybe, the young are a little bit different to the rest of us.

You see we do change because of technology.  Human evolution was radicalised by the adoption of cooking food over a fire.  This made food more easily digestible which meant that we had more time to do things other than eat.  Cooking with fire changed our bodies, our brains and our use of social time.  In “Catching Fire; how cooking made us human”  Richard Wrangham, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard, argues that cooked food was the turning point in the development of human physiology.

If fire helped us evolve, hand axes changed our hands.  Newly discovered bones from 1.4 million years ago show the development of an evolutionary advantage in the third metacarpal.  Humans with it could use axes more effectively.

Brian David Johnson, futurist at Intel, explained recently at Wired’s get together at Burberry books changed our capacity for oral memory.  Before we had them we had to remember and retell all the stories around the campfire.  Subsequently we could write them down and read them, which has meant that our ability to memorise epics is diminished.

Now the internet is changing our ability to remember stuff again.  There’s a lot of debate about whether the internet is making us dumber or smarter.  What is clear is that it is changing us and changing the role of education.  (What do you need to memorise anymore?).  The enormous change in the ready availability of information and opinion is already making us challenge long sacrosanct communication conventions.

There is every chance that the young will be a slightly different species.   Whilst human drives and motivations are essentially unchanging, human behaviour and expectations will evolve.

Let’s just take one media example.  Most of the current mature viewing audience have been trained to wait a week for the next episode of a much loved show.  Yet if the series is filmed and finished (not live) will the young be able to tolerate it being doled out to them at the pace that suits the content owner ie over a 22 week season?  Or to put up with a delay in viewing a show that has broken earlier in the US ? Perhaps viewing levels will be effected by the loss of the capacity amongst the young for delayed gratification on an evolutionary basis ?  There could be implications on media consumption, shopping behaviour and interests that will effect mass markets over the next decade.   With the rise of the Millennials in the work place and as consumers, that generation who have never known life without the web,  we do need to think differently about problem solving, ways of working and how to communicate.



Don’t get on a plane, send a furbie

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

The future solution to too much business travel ? Not better video conferencing, not a Humanoid Android look-a-like but perhaps an adorable cuddly toy version of yourself.

Back in 2009 there were lots of predictions that business travel would lose out to new forms of video conferencing.  Indeed when judging the recent APG awards there were a few presentations via Google Hangouts.  Owen Smith spoke to us from Hong Kong and  Cathy Clift transmitted from New York.  If I said it was the equivalent of them being in the room I would be lying to you.  It is difficult to get the full force of your personality across under those circumstances, even though the judging panel were determined to get to the quality of the work and past the quality of the connection.   I’ve just attended Wired’s Disruption Discussion on new consumer tech.  The first presenter wasn’t there in person but as a robot.  This manifested itself as a disembodied head through a screen balanced on top of a Segway that was remotely controlled.  Innovative, but less engaging than a flesh and blood presenter might have been.

We all use video conferencing under certain circumstances, but it is fairly well understood that if your job title includes “Global” then you’d better carry a passport and a toothbrush on you at all times.

As I am not a fan of the airport I think this is a shame.  Whilst undoubtedly  there’s nothing to replace the firm hand shake and air kiss of greeting, it would be good on a number of economic and ecological levels for there to be substitutes for flying that satisfied better than a shaky video connection.

The substitution may lie in a form of robotics.  There is a great  deal of development in this arena driven by the aging population and the need for carers.  What is interesting is that the robots aren’t going to look like people.  This is because of the “Uncanny Valley”.   What the “Uncanny Valley” theory shows is that people don’t like robots that look like people .  Too scary, even taboo.  People like puppets, muppets, furbies and cuddly toys.

So a team of scientists in Singapore have designed the HuGGler – a monkey robot to help Alzheimer patients.  In Huddersfield, Teddy the Guardian Bear, is caring for babies.

Could we get to a situation where the robot could sit in a cupboard in meeting rooms around the world and rather than have to fly from place to place they could plug the robot in to a modem that you controlled from your HQ and it would shake hands, hug, and interact rather than you needing to go everywhere in person?  Is it just a dream ?  And if it is reality in the near future would you have global media planner furbies in meetings all over the planet ?  Or am I just a muppet for thinking so ?


For your sake, @ckinniburgh, I hope the fitbit failed to log your steps. Only “0 steps, for a total of 0 miles.”

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Uh oh.  Once again Alfred Ignoble is telling CKinniburgh off.

Alfred is the Twitterbot created by Chris Kinniburgh, a law student in the US.  Chris has most of his life hooked up by telematics and Alfred responds to the information he gets about how much exercise Chris has managed daily, how many hours he’s spent gaming or been outdoors, comments on the weather and generally and critically gives his creator a good nag.

John Shaw, Head of R+D and Innovations at DLG, interviewed Chris about his creation as part of the briefing for a Telematics Hackathon session last month.  Chris explained that the Twitterbot had his flaws at the moment and needed tweaking.  For instance Alfred will tell Chris off about late night gaming sessions even at the weekend, he’s not taking into account that a school night is different from leisure time, and yes Chris feels that Alfred is being unfair.

The relationship between the two is fascinating.  Kinniburgh has created something to hound him into changing his behaviour.  Telematics is obviously key to this.  In the last couple of weeks I have personally noticed a big step change in the numbers of Pebbles and Jawbones decorating the arms of people I’m in meetings with.   It feels to me like this has crossed the line from very early adopters to the ahead of the crowd mainstream set.  Most of those who I’ve asked about them suggest that there is a behaviour improvement once you start monitoring what you do in this way.  Whether that is due to the fact that if you buy one you’re intending to improve anyway or whether it indicates the probability of improvement for the mass market is currently unanswered but nearly everyone I’ve questioned is pleased with their self improvement.

Kinniburgh’s bot is a step yet further on the road.  Some would have imagined Alfred as a cheerleading coach type.  Scan through his comments to Chris and it’s clear that a lesser man would have switched him off a long time ago.  I think that there’s something in his haranguing tone of voice that may be helpful to Chris though.  Perhaps Chris is enjoying ignoring Alfred and getting one up on him by dismissing his advice.

We all have friends and loved ones who wander through life from one dysfunctional relationship to another.  Serially dumped women who fall for emotionally unavailable men and constantly get their hearts broken.  Men who partner with wives and girlfriends who nag them like a fishwife. Psychologists might quickly diagnose this as fulfilling a need to partner with someone who reminds them of their mothers or fathers. (Freud would just blame the mother).  It can be hard to break the pattern.  But what if you could design a Twitter bot to have the dysfunctional relationship with you ?   You could tell the Twitter bot what you really thought of them without fear of repercussison.  Or, like Chris, you could just rise above the whole thing and maintain a lofty attitude to the criticism. Then you might have the freedom to conduct a guilt free blame free carefree relationship with a real life partner.

Imagine – Twitter bot could tell if you were out late at night and tweet you :“What time do you call this then?”  As you were leaving the house it could tweet : “You’re not going out looking like that”.  On the eve of bin day it might say “You never put the bins out without me asking”.   And regularly accuse you of : “Never phoning never texting never coming over”.

In the workplace you could have Boss from Hell bot who could tweet you each morning with  : “You’re late again, make me a coffee, fill in your timesheet”.

You of course could reply to the Twitterbot with all the things you’d like to say to your boss/partner in real life, but stop yourself from doing so.  Then having fulfilled any masochistic tendency safely and you can go on to have productive relationships instead in the real world.


Awards WTF

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

I’ve been judging awards recently : Media Week and APG.  And later on this month it’s the Newsworks awards (still time to enter).  It is always a privilege to be a judge.  Great to hear about the best thinking of the industry.

What does it take to win an award?  Russell Davies (who has probably won more awards than I have had hot dinners) gives a good rundown here .

There’s one more factor.

One of the presenters at the APG awards where they still do live presentations of the short listed entries, said something that stuck with me.  Ross Berthinussen from BBH said : “planning needs to inspire not just the idea but also the bravery to make it happen.”

I like this very much.  We sometimes can ignore that it takes great bravery to create work that differs from the norm and really stands out.  Work that we can learn from. Work that is both brilliant in the thinking and accountable in the execution.   It also takes great bravery to enter that work for an award.

Not every planner in every agency will enter an award this year.  Perhaps if they did the awards themselves would be overrun to an unmanageable extent.  So perhaps it’s a good thing that only a few planners bother to do so.  A good thing for the logistics of the awards organisers perhaps. (Although I’m sure that they could cope).  Not a good thing for the industry and not a good thing for personal development.  I think that every planner should be entering an award.  Or should be asking themselves why they haven’t got an award to enter.

Bravery.  Bravery to create a difference in the work in the first place with an idea lodged in media and consumer insight.  Bravery, as Ross said, in making it happen.  And bravery to take your thinking, commit it to paper, and expose yourself to the scrutiny of the judges.

If you don’t enter, you won’t win.  If you win, you have a short cut to making yourself noticed – which is a better route to the top than networking or politicking (as Dave Trott points out in his advice to a younger self).  Go ahead, take the plunge, make the judges care about your work.