Archive for May, 2014

Movies lack alpha females too.

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Last week Campaign journalist Louise Ridley asked me to comment on a piece of research which said that advertising lacked alpha females. The sample size was only 35 but the IPA’s statistics confirm that female advertising leadership stands at 26% … Not bad compared to some industries, great compared to the representation of women in the Cabinet, hardly representative of either the UK population, or gender splits at grad intake level.


My next book is about women and work and I’ve therefore been discussing the subject with people in our industry and across the UK and US outside our sector. ( And my advertising sample size is a lot more than 35!).


The book is still in development of course, but one senior person in the movie industry believes firmly that Hollywood both sets a tone for our culture and reflects it.  He felt that the issue about gender equality is not merely a work issue but a cultural one.  That one can’t be changed until the other does, and that movies are a barometer of society’s attitude to gender.


He told me about the Bechdel test, which started as a satirical cartoon and is now widely used to judge the gender bias of movies.


There are just 3 criteria to pass.  It has to have at least two women in it, who talk to each other, about something besides a man.


It’s a surprisingly hard test to pass.  And of course surprisingly easy to pass if you reverse the criteria (two men, talk to each other, about something besides a woman).  Sure there are loads of those – most of my favourite movies and probably yours.  The number of my favourite movies that pass the true Bechdel test ?  Somewhat fewer, especially if you mandate movies from the last 20 years as this has got worse not better.


The last two brilliant movies I saw at the cinema don’t pass (The Lunchbox and Blue Ruin if you’re interested).


In fact I can’t think of a recent movie I’ve seen that does pass.  The punchline of the original Bechdel cartoon published in 1985 portrays one woman saying to the other : “Pretty strict, but a good idea”. To which the other replies with a smile : “No kidding, the last movie I was able to see was Alien”.


Whether you’re alpha male or female, whether you think we work in an industry with gender bias or in a meritocracy, next time you watch a movie apply the Bechdel test to it.  Keep a count.  It’s an interesting exercise, and so far my count skews dramatically in one direction.


We need to effect a behaviour change.

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Many briefs have this ambition, whether explicit or implicit.  A brief that seeks to drive loyalty, drive frequency or drive penetration wants some kind of behaviour habit change.

Yet behaviour change is a tough nut to crack. Latest theories about how advertising works fashionably claim that it reinforces existing habits rather than makes a change.  Books like “Herd” by the inimitable Mark Earls show how the behaviour of your tribe affects you, and some ways to effect it.

In my book “Tell the Truth” I write about the opportunity to get behavioural routines to work in your favour – don’t try and change behaviour if instead you can leverage an existing routine instead – this is easier and cheaper.

There are times when there is a massive change in someone’s behaviour.  We can absolutely predict when it is going to happen, and by understanding what’s going on in the target audience’s lives in this respect we gain an opportunity to offer up a behaviour substitution that can help to answer a brief.

Back to school is one of those seasonal changes of course, much exploited by supermarkets seeking to sell school uniforms and pencil cases, but less so by brands who could perhaps exploit the extra down time or mental availability of non working mums in the autumn months, especially ones with kids just starting full time education.

This weekend of course is another one.  For millions of football fans there is a massive change in behaviour for the next few weeks.  Not just for the fans, but for their families.  Many brands are gearing up to advertise around the World Cup.  Will anyone target fans in the odd few weeks of non action preceding the big competition?

This is yet another argument for the need for real time research about people’s habits and routines.  Anyone still basing the totality of their advice on one moment in time diary desk top traditional research without understanding what the consumer is up to now in real time, isn’t doing their job.

Behaviour change number one therefore, needs to occur (if it hasn’t already) within the planning discipline itself and is to make sure that any recommendation for a media schedule is topical, real time and in tune with the real lives of the target market.


You have to learn how to fall.

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

This is one of the themes of international bestselling novel ‘The Truth about the Harry Quebert affair”.  No need for a spoiler alert, I’m not going to give anything away here.  The twists and turns of the plot include the protagonist getting this advice from his eponymous mentor.


I won’t comment on the book overall here as it’s not a book review blog, but this lesson is certainly a worthwhile one.


Jack Dee referred recently on Desert Island Discs to being called thick in front of the whole of his school by his headmaster.  From his tone of voice it seemed not unlikely that his subsequent career is partly based on proving the headmaster’s hasty judgement wrong.


His lasting anger sounded like a catalyst for change.  An ongoing need to push back and have a better, more successful , life story.


Who knows what is the catalyst to turn your story round.  Dee’s story reminded me that I had a less public and yet personally important, experience at my school where I was the only kid in years 7 and 8 never to get a “good work mark” and therefore did not get my name called out in assembly by the headmistress.  Obviously much less of a public humiliation, as it is quite likely that no-one apart from me was aware of it, but character forming none the less.  It certainly focussed my mind academically as I went on to exceed my teachers’ somewhat limited expectations thereafter.


The point about falling is the bounce back.  Think about falling, diving, or jumping, into a deep swimming pool or lake.  It is only when you reach the very bottom that you have the ability to push up.


So the next time someone critiques your work, or what you said or did in a meeting, pay close attention.  Make sure that you fully feel the emotions that might arise.  Don’t brush over the negatives, don’t move on or forget it.  Use it.  Learn how to use the fall, to embrace the descent.  At the nadir of the descent is the point that you can push back up from most strongly.



“You talking to me? “

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

“You talkin to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin …you talkin to me?”


So said Travis Bickle, anticipating a lack of respect from someone targeting him, in the iconic 1976 movie Taxi Driver.


It turns out many mums feel the same way.  Certainly the mums surveyed in Mumsnet and Saatchi’s research last month.  At Mumstock, the marketing to mums conference, new research on what makes mums tick was unveiled.  Mums were resolute in asserting that being a mum does not define them as a person.  Indeed Saatchi’s Director of Strategy, the fabulous and erudite, Richard Huntingdon said that we should consider redefining them as “women with children” as if we do so we are forced to put the woman first.


Similar irritation with marketing stereotypes this time amongst the over 50s was revealed at MediaCom’s conference with High50 last week.  The glorious Mariella Frostrup opened by giving us her birthday (November 1962), and then her opinion on how she’s targeted by some brands.


She said “I can honestly say that post 50 I’m more ‘me’, and doing more of what I want to than ever before.  But these are some of the things I have not started doing since I’ve turned 50.  I have not joined Saga – the travel and financial services organisation for the over 50s.  Nor have I started going on cruise holidays.  I have not started buying packets of seeds out of those classified ads. Or Cozyfeet slippers…Nor have I bought a Stannah stair lift…


What I have noticed about being over 50 is that the media……people who want to sell me things just don’t seem to have a handle on who I am, how to talk to me, or what I’m like.”


Given that between them mums and the 50+ probably between them have most of the cultural and economic power in the UK it does seem like there’s lots of room for improvement.  Or as I like to think if we get it right when the marketplace doesn’t : competitive advantage.


We too unveiled a major piece of research;  the 50somethings we spoke to were amazing, dynamic, outspoken and had masses of disposable income and very few brands that they felt a strong affinity with, so there are opportunities if you get it right.


There’s big scope with these two influential groups to pay them a bit more respect, to listen to their views, to walk a mile in their shoes in fact, and reap commercial advantage.


What have you done wrong lately?

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

In reviewing Eels latest release, in the Sunday Times, Mark Edwards writes of its creative lead E: “In Everett, Eels fans have found someone who makes all the mistakes they do, but is willing to admit it…. Never more so that on his latest album, which lays out recent missteps and mercilessly examines them in search of useful life lessons.”


It can be rare for our professional leaders to admit mistakes.  In career terms that kind of honesty can be seen as weakness.  Some people move jobs so frequently that they can leave their mistakes behind them, perhaps not even to be discovered until they have moved on.


Advertising supremo Stevie Spring suggested recently that there should be an award for the best learning from stuff that went wrong.  What a refreshing idea.  The tendency in awards writing is to tell a faultless narrative that usually runs : here’s a huge problem for a brand; here’s our brilliant insight; here’s our flawless execution; here’s some amazing results.  I love the idea that we might learn much more from the disasters.


The same problem often happens in training programmes where the narrative flow goes:  Here’s some common work issues, here’s the flawless way to correct them.  The training day might flow faster (and with more fun) if everyone brought their mistakes and then workshopped how to remedy them.


My global CEO Stephen Allan likes it when people admit their mistakes.  It’s kind of reassuring when you understand that the very very worst thing you can do is try to cover up a mistake, and no mistake that you can think of could possibly as bad as not owning up to it.


At a recent conference Steve admitted one of his mistakes to a packed hall.  “A lack of speed” on occasion in making things happen, was what he confided to a few hundred attendees.


It would be refreshing if a board meeting started with what everyone had learnt from their mistakes recently.  It is said by many at the moment that businesses are risk averse.  If we could normalise a culture of talking about our mistakes and showing what we had learnt from them, then perhaps risks would seem, well, less risky.


Mark Edwards concludes his review of “The cautionary tales of Mark Oliver Everett” by suggesting that we might not actually learn any life lessons from the album, but that we do “experience exquisitely beautiful music”.


Equally, we would surely at the very least hear some great stories if we talked more about the stuff that went wrong.  I have a closet of war stories. Like many people I usually keep them to myself, but I do know that’s when I have learnt the most useful lessons.  Am happy to share !


England Rugby player and World Cup 2003 hero, Will Greenwood,  speaking on the same panel as Steve Allan, said he’d learnt that  “the only thing you can count on in any critical situation is that something will go wrong”.  As someone said to me today : “Soldiers will rally behind a leader who isn’t as good as they would like him to be, but they won’t rally behind a leader who isn’t as good as he thinks he is”.  It’s better to be upfront about your mistakes than pretend that you never make any.