Archive for September, 2015

Understand the rules, then break them.

Friday, September 25th, 2015

webb-ellisDSC_2046Last week I was videoed answering a set of questions aimed at giving advice to this year’s delegates at The Media Business Course.

Who know what will survive the edit? In case of harsh editing I will say here that I mentioned the need to follow the money through the planning process in answer to several questions ie never lose sight of the fact that the very point of the plan is to deliver sales for the brand (or of course behaviour change).   Challenged to explain how to find a good consumer insight in a few words it was quicker to explain what a bad one was for example, don’t bother with the revelation that teenagers like music or that men like football.

I didn’t give the most powerful advice for winning at this kind of course. No question quite prompted it, or I have only thought of it after filming, so I’ll give it here: Break the rules.

You have to know what the rules are of course in order to break them.  But if you do, and you can find a way to break them, then you’ll power ahead.  What if the target market is to date only teenage boys? That was true of gaming until Nintendo developed the wonderfully successful Wii Fit.  What if underwear advertising only ever runs in women’s magazines? That didn’t stop Wonderbra stopping traffic and step changing the brand with poster advertising.

We’re enjoying an event invented by an outrageous rule breaker.

An event that the Sunday Times has predicted “if it all goes to plan will be the most commercially successful event in the sport’s history”.

The Rugby World Cup.

By some accounts in 1823 a sixteen year old school boy at Rugby School, William Webb Ellis, was meant to be playing football but instead, as a commemorative stone states: “with a fine disregard for the rules of football…first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the rugby game.”   As one source adds “Lucky he didn’t go to a Comprehensive – he’d have got the shoeing of his life.”

Though many people contradict this story, it’s made the name of Webb Ellis last for over a century.

Look for the rules of the category you’re planning in and think about how you could break them.  That might be by changing target audience, broadening a niche by attracting a bigger cohort of buyers.  It might be by using a medium that no-one else in the category does.  It might be by advertising all year round in a seasonal competitive market.

You might break the rules by breaking the rules of the competition.  I won a course of this nature by a ruthless disregard of the rules the judges had set.  (Note to anyone attending the course: This is high risk.  One of our judges wanted to disqualify us, but we talked our way into the win.)

So Media Business Course candidates, look for the rules and then subvert them.  Most of your judges will probably have broken a rule or two in their time, and the stories that they could tell of those times would be good to entice out of them at any question time.

Should girls stop playing with Barbie or should more men wear skirts ?

Friday, September 18th, 2015

barbThe new president of the British Science Association, Dame Athene Donald, has suggested that girls’ toys are reinforcing gender stereotypes.  Barbie leads to “passivity – combing the hair of Barbie for instance – not building, imagining or being creative with Lego or Meccano.”

Gender stereotypes are very hard to shift.

Every effort to do so should to an extent be applauded.  But my view is that taking Barbies away from little girls will do absolutely nothing to change a much more deep rooted cultural problem.

First it is perfectly possible to build and construct things imaginatively with dolls at the centre of play.  When I was a child I was given a dolls house that was pretty much falling down.  The interesting thing about playing with it was rebuilding it, and there were no templates to follow of course.  So perhaps the point is to offer children of any gender less finished toys to play with.

Suggesting that playing with dolls is in some way second rate for a child’s education reinforces the gender stereotypes.  It implies once again the femininity is worse than masculinity.  This matters in a world where most senior business roles are taken by men and where an eminent scientist can cause uproar with his comments about gender.  Little girls like playing with dolls at certain points of their development.  They also in my experience like playing with trains, cars, meccano and plastic building bricks.  They sometimes like dressing up as princesses.  They sometimes like to dress as Batman or Superman.

What about boys then?

We know they like dressing as Spiderman and playing with bricks.  Do we even know if they’d like to dress in pink or play with dolls?  Are they normally allowed to?  Let’s face it, even in this day and age, it is rare.  Why should that be?  It can only be because there’s some kind of fear of infection with femininity where in fact we know (don’t we?) that both masculine and feminine values are important for the workplace and that diversity in types of people makes a business stronger.

I quite frequently wear trousers to work.  I’ve yet to be in a meeting in London where any of the men present are wearing a dress.  What’s going on here?  Dresses are really comfortable, especially in the summer heat.  For adland folk who were lucky enough to go to Cannes in baking heat this year a smart summer dress was a welcome wardrobe item.  What a shame that only half the people present had the opportunity to take advantage of it.

I would like to see some men in skirts in Cannes, although frankly there was way too much comment about certain individuals and their wearing of shorts so I can see why men might not bother to move on from Chinos.  More to the point I would agree with Dame Athene that gender stereotyping starts at a very young age.  Psychiatrist Anna Fels writes in the HBR that in pre-school boys are given more recognition and their confidence is boosted more than girls.  She cites one study where “all 15 of the teachers gave more attention to boys.…They got both more physical and verbal rewards. Boys also received more direction from the teachers and were twice as likely as the girls to get individual instruction on how to do things.”

Snatching Barbies will do nothing.  Taking a long hard look at how we treat girls and boys throughout their childhood in this culture is an urgent and necessary step for true gender equality in science and at work.


How to train your lizard and other animals

Friday, September 11th, 2015

jub-jub3Good leaders have good communication skills; that goes without saying.  Yet anyone can learn to repeat a well written speech or to spout positive management cliches.  Communication does not just lie in conscious verbal speech.  Truly great leaders have the skill to understand, interpret and communicate not just what they hear, but also what they feel.  The technique to this lies not in management textbook speak but in a sensitivity to limbic resonance.

The idea of the limbic brain was developed by neuroscientist Paul MacLean.  In the 1960s he developed the theory that we all have three interconnected parts to our brain.  In simple terms the earliest part is the primitive reptilian brain (the lizard – controls breathing and balance).  Next there is the limbic brain concerned with emotions and finally the new higher mammalian brain (thinking and rational decisions).  The limbic brain, present in older mammals controls fight-or-flight responses and reacts to both emotionally pleasurable and painful sensations.  It doesn’t speak your verbal language at all, so you can’t reason with it.  Every time you have an apparently irrational need to get out of a situation, despite the fine words that might be spoken or every time you feel immediately at ease somewhere or with someone that’s your limbic system reacting.  This is limbic resonance and it is immensely powerful.

According to MacLean the biggest problem in communications is not person to person, but in each of us understanding and interpreting the messages we get from our different brains – two of which don’t actually use spoken language at all.

“The greatest language barrier,” he concluded, “lies between man and his animal brains; the neural machinery does not exist for intercommunication in verbal terms.”

We all have different levels of attunement to the limbic resonance of any given situation.  To be too sensitive to it is a curse, to have no sensitivity to it can be your downfall.  Limbic resonance is highly contagious.  If those around us are giving off an air of insecurity then we will catch it.  If the mood is high then it takes us up too.  Workplace cultures are steeped in limbic resonance.  If yours is healthy then you will love going to work every day.  If it is not, well then not so much.

Great leaders are skilled in picking up the limbic resonance of a situation, a work place, a meeting, a networking event, and in reacting to it and shifting the tone.  It is a much harder skill to learn than parroting the right management speak and they don’t teach you it at school or university (although if you had a great teacher at either of those places then they will have had great limbic resonance understanding).

You can’t shift the limbic resonance of a situation with words.  It is non-verbal signals that do it, tone of voice perhaps, pace of speech, even how people breathe.

It is a well-known management lesson that listening is as important as speaking.  The limbic and lizard brains demand yet more of managers.  You need to be sensitive to what is not spoken, careful with what is indicated with all kinds of non-verbal language.  That’s how truly great leaders succeed.




Some miss the days of “expensive advertising”

Monday, September 7th, 2015

times-squareA New York agency man writes here that “the very act of investing in TV, buying a premium billboard, taking an ad in Vogue, became brand building … because of the cost, not despite” and he regrets the “spiral of decline” that online investment represents.

Expensive advertising versus cheap advertising? This is not of course a measure of effectiveness, quality or return on investment.  And, as the saying goes, you need horses for courses.

I believe that there are only 2 kinds of “good” advertising: advertising that creates desire and advertising that harvests the demand created by desire.

The IPA have unpicked this to an extent in the latest epic from Binet and Field; “The long and the short of it”, but Brand Responsive communication strategies have been a practice at MediaCom since before the internet (yes, I too can of course remember that far back!) Brand advertising and response advertising must work together in balance.  Empirical neutral media planning must balance the two with some overlap between them (think Venn diagram: some desire building ads also drive immediate short term sales and some harvesting demand ads create long term desire and build the brand).

The two different kinds of advertising require different creative approaches, different media approaches, have different measurement challenges and drive different expectations in the audience.  We all know this, it is common sense.  If you see a long film for a prestige car in a cinema you have different expectations of it from the banner ad for the same brand driving you to a site where you can book a test drive, request a brochure or configure model specifications.  The two should also be measured and judged differently.  To confuse them is unhelpful.  As Binet and Field state one set of success metrics does not necessarily define or predict the other: “Brands should pursue a balance score card of metrics, capable of monitoring both long term and short term effects, and be aware that it is not always immediately clear whether a leading indicator is a more reliable predictor of success.”

In terms of targeting too, it is a mistake to apply the discipline of advertising that harvests demand to the discipline of creating desire and vice versa.  A few years ago I chaired a panel at one of our conferences where Mark Howe of Google, Jeremy Bullmore of WPP (and Campaign) and Paddy Barwise, LBS, debated which of the new developments in media should supplant heritage practices.  Howe focussed on the Zero Moment of Truth and elimination of wastage that Google could offer.  Bullmore gave his opinion that if the marketing team at a luxury car successfully eliminated all wastage and only targeted people who were about to buy a BMW in the next 3 months, then eventually nobody would want to buy a BMW in the next 3 months as part of the motivation for owning a new luxury marque is the prestige it carries in the minds of those who cannot afford to buy one.  Eliminate wastage at your peril.  “Wastage” needs redefining.  Short term or long term? Actual prospective purchasers or those in their peer group who will endorse their purchase?

The balance will change by sector, by audience and by brand strategy.  But the balance between building desire and harvesting demand is a necessary consideration for every brand.


Looking after yourself is right on trend

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

What is the spirit of these times? Being able to pinpoint the emerging Zeitgeist can have a powerful impact on brands and media channels.  Current predictions include:  mobile is everything; the quantified self; transparency (as I pointed out in my book “Tell the Truth, Honesty is your most Powerful Marketing Tool”); personalisation (see recent blog); content is king and distribution is queen.


All of these have merit. There is also an all-encompassing trend in the West and in emerging nations that is redefining the economy and re-expressing what morality means in modern society.  It will have long term impact on legislation and government planning.  Brands that address it will experience success, and indeed many of the world’s great brands are beginning to do so.


This is the new Health Trend.  We are used to the idea that medicine is getting better, our expectations over the last five decades for recovery from illness have risen considerably.  However since the decoding of the human genome in 2001 healthcare has become personal, and is set to become even more so.  The availability of a personal genome profile means that we can and should be in the position of being able to take care of ourselves more than our parents and grandparents could.  An understanding of the likelihood that we might fall prey to one disease or another will become part of our upbringing and education.  The responsibility for our own lifespan and health will be our own first rather than that of the state.  There will be a new class structure to society – those who take care of themselves and those who don’t.  There will be a revolution in insurance services and personalised healthcare.  There will be a new moral code.  How we behave, how much we eat or drink, exercise or take drugs, will be based on personal responsibility for caring for our genome structure, not on the rights and wrongs imposed by society, relationships or religion.


The health industry is one of the greatest stimulants to the worldwide economy.  Futurology expert Leo Nefiodow has identified this as the next powerful “long wave”.  He says: “The health cycle isn’t really about health care, it’s just called this.  More than 97% of financial capital is spent on research into, and diagnosis, therapy and management of, diseases.  It is in fact an illness cycle.”

Either way, can any other industry match Health/Illness in stimulating jobs and investment?


Technology for the quantified self, mindfulness, exercise, biotechnology, diet, genealogy research, cosmeceuticals, therapies, care for the elderly, policy for education and sports at school, home testing kits and new medicines.  All developing from the Health Wave.  The new morality; the new social imperative.


Should every brand seek to find a fit with the Health Zeitgeist? Well, while shops selling fried chicken and chips remain one of the most popular retail outlets on some high streets then there is no need to shoehorn immediate healthy meaningfulness into every single brand.  Every brand needs to prioritise authenticity over the sheen of an intoxicating but irrelevant shell of meaning.   But as the Zeitgeist of this era the Health (or Illness) Wave needs to be considered for marketing and communication strategy.