Archive for July, 2015

You’re so wrong you’re right.

Friday, July 31st, 2015

“Right”, said Mark Earls, “Everyone in the second row and the fourth row come up to the stage, we’re going to play a game that illustrates what happens when humans copy each other.”

Fearful of being made to participate in a conga, or maybe mass karaoke, the nervous participants shuffle up to the front.

They line up, facing east, looking at each others’ backs.  Earls taps the person on the far left on the back, gets them to turn around, demonstrates a reasonably simple action that they need to pass on to the person in front of them.  As this action passes down the line it gradually changes.  A wave from the left becomes a waggle of both shoulders.  A nod becomes a toss of the head instead.

The audience is enthralled.  In the space of a few moments the action is entirely transformed.  Earls asks the audience to communicate to the participants what they’ve witnessed.

“That third chap in,” calls out one audience member, “He waved the wrong arm for a start”.  “Shall we say “different” rather than “wrong”?” responds Earls.

I have actually been that third chap in in Earls’ line and been called out for getting the action “wrong”, only to have Earls’ reassurance that, on the contrary, I didn’t get it “wrong”, I added creatively to the routine.  In my case it was in a client seminar, where Earls was demonstrating his brilliantly original thinking around copying that is worked through in his new book “Copy, Copy, Copy”.  It clarified to me the difficulty of requesting creativity from teams under clear pressure to get things right.  Just for a moment I wanted to apologise for my mistake, to assure everyone that I would get it right next time, that I wouldn’t make the same error twice.

Then the Herdmeister himself assured me that I hadn’t made a mistake, indeed it wouldn’t be much of an illustration of the Chinese whispers that happen when people copy each other, if everyone got the routine right with military precision.

“Talent copies, genius steals”.  (The quotation has variously been attributed to Oscar Wilde, TS Eliot and Picasso).  The build based on Mark Earls’ book and insights would be that good thinkers copy, great thinkers copy badly.

There are times in the working day when precision is massively important and getting it right is crucial to business success.  Then there are the other times, the creative moments, the occasions when we should be step-changing the thinking on a piece of business or disrupting the normal course of events.  This requires a different state of mind entirely.  One where we can get things wrong and be happy about it.  When the cliché that there is no wrong answer is real not a comforting fantasy.  When copying two or three ideas badly might engender a genuinely brilliant original answer to a brief.

Get it wrong, you couldn’t be more right.




Bored? Good. Use it.

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Nature Valley is creating a YouTube stir with its film asking 3 generations what they did as kids to amuse themselves.

The older generations speak of “growing watermelons and plantains”.  Younger adults talk of building forts and outdoor games.  Kids today? Take a wild guess: Tablets and gaming.

Of course our take out is to endorse the need to #rediscovernature.  Chuck our children outdoors (with a granola bar to sustain them).  Condemn the addiction to technology of youth today.

My take out is slightly different.  Although I can remember vividly playing outside of course and constructing tree houses and building ant farms I also remember how boring things were much of the time.  Rainy Sunday afternoons with no video games to play or shops to go to stretch like very long boring things in my memory.   How I would have loved to find things to do on a smart phone.  Yet it is also true that this boredom was a useful thing.  If it did nothing else it led me to plan avidly to escape it.  It made me the planner perhaps that I am today.

Have we eliminated boredom from most areas of our lives now that we can entertain ourselves however we want to, whenever we want to?  Have we robbed our children of boredom with a combo of afterschool activities and their own smartphones?

When were you last very bored?

Wired writer Clive Thompson suggests that boredom is one of our most productive states.  Citing a recent academic survey where half the subjects were asked to do something boring for a bit (copying numbers from a phone book) and then tested for creative ideas versus a control (unbored) group.  The result was that the bored cohort came up with more ideas and more creative ideas. He asks “What if boredom is a meaningful experience.  One that propels us to states of deeper thoughtfulness or creativity?”

Rather than fill our time with social activities or urgent tasks we need to be very unproductive in order to be very productive.  If your diary at work is packed with meetings or spread sheets then you have a problem.  You have no oasis of calm in which to think about what you would do if you were not so busy.  Use the Urgent/Important grid to classify your day.  If there’s no time at all for “Important but not Urgent” then find some, or Urgent Urgent activity will take control.

We don’t have to deal with slow moments any more, either at work or at home (or in transit).  There’s always a Buzzfeed quiz or an update on Piers Morgan’s social engagements.

Enforced boredom is a huge driver of productivity.  To many this seems like a contradiction in terms.  Surely if you haven’t got anything to do then you’re not doing enough.  In fact the very opposite is true.  If you are always busy you are never doing enough.





Everything is local.

Friday, July 17th, 2015

The average British southerner moves no more than 6 miles from their birthplace.  (I’ve currently managed 6.4). The average northerner no more than 3 (they’re firmly attached to their roots in the North).

Of course that doesn’t stop you being a global citizen and in our trade we all work with global media these days.  But home is where the heart is, and the new Local Media Awards are a welcome reminder of the truth that very local media can deliver a powerful boost to a communications mix that if too often perhaps overlooked in the rush for the new.
However huge or global an idea might be it is literally experienced locally.  Our senses are local.  Even if what we’re experiencing has broad appeal we are physically in a specific place and that’s where we’re receiving the message.  Recognising this and leveraging it can deliver much needed competitive advantage in many categories where the plans are focussed on getting traction in social media and can ignore the possibilities that local media can provide for delivering up close and personal meaning.

The local newspaper medium itself has woken up to the possibilities of innovation.  Just as one example think of the Sky and Johnston Press Adsmart partnership which delivers welcome new local marketplace opportunities.

There’s a huge amount of possibility if you think local of course.  Digital out of home can be deliver postcode specific messaging relevant to time of day and type of audience. Mobile ads are local in your pocket.  But let’s not forget print. Do you know how many local newspapers there are? There are 1100 local newspapers and 1700 associated websites up and down the UK. At some stages of life trust in local papers rides high.

The reasons people have for buying and reading local have fundamentally changed since Google, EBay and property portals. Local press used primarily to be utilitarian in the days when classified print ads ruled.  Now it’s for local gossip, campaigns to save the local library or lido, scandal at the local school, curiosity about the new shops on the main high street and sadly news of local crime.  Difficult though this may be to believe for some readers there’s times in your life when the excitement of Kimye does actually become background to the imperatives of your local community, especially when your children are young or your parents are elderly.  When you may feel closer to your locale than you do to 1000 friends around the globe on Facebook.

Being close is one of the crucial techniques for delivering truth and authenticity.  And it’s often under exploited. There’s opportunity for driving advantage here.  For any campaign it’s worth asking these questions.  Can you tailor your messages to make them locally relevant? Is there any brand in your competitive set which is really close emotionally to the consumer? Can your brand get closer by creating local meaning ? The Edelman trust survey shows the continuing growth of trust in “people like me”.  Can you make heroes of your local employees to leverage that trust?


The Selfie revolution and its impact on modern marketing

Monday, July 13th, 2015

Boy George was amazing at MediaCom’s Cannes event.  Talking profoundly to Steve Allan he talked what goes around, comes around.

“I say to my niece, we had selfies in my day.  It’s just that you had to get dressed up, get on the bus (in fear of being beaten up if you were dressed like me), go to the train station and take them in a photo booth.”

Bit more of an effort than it is now though then.  The “Look at me!” drive is the same of course, fuelled by the ease of shoving your image in other people’s faces on social.  In Boy George’s day he had to find someone prepared to admire him.  Now you can create a gallery of selfies all day long for anyone who cares to share.

This might change society quite profoundly.  It certainly already has an impact on marketing and consumer expectations.


For Millennials it is impossible to imagine a world without selfies.  As impossible as it is for the rest of us to imagine a world without mirrors.


600 years ago you couldn’t really look at yourself at all.  Although polished metal mirrors have been around for millennia, the glass mirror, developed the 15th and popularised in 16th century was a revolution.  According to historian Ian Mortimer “the development of glass mirrors marks a crucial shift, for they allowed people to see themselves properly for the first time, with all their unique expressions and characteristics.”

So what?

So the development of individualism, a shift in popular images from religious iconography to portraits, maybe even the first seeds of democracy.

Imagine for a moment you had never, ever looked at yourself, other than to see yourself reflected in a pool of water, or maybe on the surface of a frying pan.  Blurred, amorphous, indistinct.  Then mirror technology – amazing spotlight on your true image and self.

If you can see yourself you can improve your look.  Until this era people knew their place, but if you can work on your image then the idea of bettering your status becomes more obvious and accessible.  If mirrors led to portraits as Mortimer argues, then portraits lead to the idea that you are the centre of attention, literally the centrepiece of the room.  Seeing yourself gives you a completely different perspective on life.  You’re not just part of the community, you begin to have a sense of personal self-worth.

Now will the effortless, ubiquitous, selfie of today have as profound an effect on our culture? It is already having an impact on marketing.   Personalisation is more salient than ever.  We love it when a brand calls our name – just look at the latest award winning work where Coca Cola partnered with 4OD to deliver a 10-second bespoke spot featuring the Channel 4 logo transforming into a bottle of Coca-Cola personalised with the individual names of viewers.  In the world of the selfie consumers will expect recognition.  Brands and media owners that don’t deliver this might lose relevance compared to the ones who do know and call their target audience’s name.





“I think there needs to be a meeting to set an agenda for more meetings about meetings.” ― Jonah Goldberg

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

“Are you lonely?  Tired of working on your own? Do you hate making decisions? Hold a meeting!  You can see people, show charts, feel important, point with a stick, eat donuts, impress your colleagues.  All on company time.  Meetings: the practical alternative to work”.

So runs the cartoon recently emerging on my social media feeds.  We all want to make meetings better don’t we?  We all have better things to do then sit in pointless, rambling meetings that take too long to get to the point.

The latest idea from the Wally Stott Institute to improve meetings is to ensure that they begin and end with a theme tune.  Great theme tunes have been a part of all our lives.  Some are local (I wouldn’t expect the Dad’s Army theme music to play well everywhere in EMEA).  Others are age defined, although great theme tunes have a way of resurfacing in popular culture – A Team for instance.  Some are timeless and thanks to movies global – 007 or Rocky.

Now that we never attend a meeting without a smartphone there’s no reason not to introduce a theme tune to set the mood with the outcomes of improved focus and productivity.

The idea of using mood music has of course been around for creativity for eons.  There’s lots of findable content on what makes for the best type of mood, either for idea generation or working productively on your own.  One of my colleagues swears by Acid House when working on ideas.  Another team’s leader favours 90’s House but the rest of the team turn it off when he goes to the loo.  When we run ideas sessions our strat team always like to play dance music generally during the bit of the meeting when people are turning up and settling in.

Now we can all take this further, and become more specific.  Choose a theme tune for a regular meeting type in order to set the tone for the session.  So if you’re having to defend an account in a (UK), against the odds, repitch open and close the meeting with the Dad’s Army theme tune.  If you’re reviewing work, play the Vision On Gallery theme.  Regular group catch ups can open and close with the theme from Cheers to remind everyone what a great team they are.  Tech meetings will have the theme from Dr Who, or Tomorrow’s World.  Ethnographic research debriefs obviously hear Life on Earth’s theme.  New business meetings generally should open with the theme from Rocky, or Grandstand or Ski Sunday.  Client service reviews should hear the theme from Downton Abbey to remind the team of their place.

Then aside from theme tunes you could go more specific and use a pop tune to set the tone.  A meeting to tell the repitch team that they’ve lost would use Abba’s Winner takes it all.  Sometimes people can’t bear to give necessary feedback to team members, when a 360 review has been clearly critical.  Managers don’t want to give bad news straight.  How much easier this would be if the meeting opened with some relevant music : Bad Moon Rising has been suggested – that would send a message at the start of a review.  Close with Man in the Mirror once constructive progress is agreed.

Run of bad luck in the agency?  There’s only one way to go as Jacob, Ratcliffe and Tickell made clear at Nabs’ Stranger than Summer bash when they performed the ultimate bounce back song – “I will survive”.