Archive for January, 2018

How “path dependence” can help and also prevent progress

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

mad_men_peggyPath dependence is our business.  Path dependence can break our business.

The qwerty keyboard doesn’t make much sense.

It did once, it was designed to make typing easier. When typewriters were manual, typing was limited largely to professional typists who used all their fingers for touch typing.

Mad Men depicted the typing pool perfectly.  In media, if you were important, your fingers never touched a keyboard.  Usually no typewriter in an ad agency was touched by a man.

Typing was done in a typing pool, (and the overwhelming majority of typists were women.)  The QWERTY keyboard had two main benefits.  It was constructed to ensure that manual keys didn’t get stuck on each other.  And the design ensured that the most frequent letters used were in the middle of the board, and accessible. Ps, Qs and Zs were outliers.

There won’t be many readers out there who used an old fashioned typewriter.  Electric typewriters became mainstream in 1970s and 80s and once they were in use the old problem that QWERTY solved was already reduced.  Manual typewriters were hard on the fingers, especially the pinkies.  If you had to reach with your little fingers to the keys at the edges, it could hurt.

Touch typing requires typists to rest their fingers in the home row (QWERTY row starting with “ASDF”). The more strokes there are in the home row, the less movement the fingers must do, thus allowing a typist to type faster (without keys sticking), more accurately, and with less strain to the hand and fingers when typing on a manual keyboard.

Everyone uses a keyboard.  Few people learn touch typing.  QWERTY keyboards live on however due to the phenomenon of path dependence.

This is where something that is first to market becomes standard and advantaged even if other better options are available or usage conditions change.

The economist Brian Arthur thinks the supremacy of the internal combustion engine in the last century is another example of path dependence.  The investments in infrastructure meant that cars ran on petrol even if there were better alternatives much earlier than the current shift to hybrid and electric.

Path dependence is one of the reasons that big brands thrive. We’re used to Brand X, so we carry on buying it, even if another better option is available.  Revitalising a brand therefore in the light of new competition is crucial to fend off challenges to path dependence in a category.  Building memory structures for a new brand, to create a path dependence, that’s our business in comms too.

Path dependence is our business.  It can however also break our business if we carry on with ways of working that are no longer useful even in the face of a better way.

A competitive review is often the task of a new planner.  She may be instructed to carry it out according to a tried and trusted way of working.  If she feels that the generation of 97 charts and little insight is not that productive she will not be the first junior planner to think so.  She may well remain silent and continue to create PowerPoint decks that reveal little other than late nights and a burgeoning expertise in chart generation.

If it isn’t interesting, if there isn’t an insight, it should be redesigned and challenged.

If it’s one of the jobs that can be better done by robots as it currently stands, the path dependence, the tried and tested way of working, must change.

A good business, with transformation as a part of its strategy, must consider where path dependence exists. If something is worth changing radically have courage to chuck out those practices and replace them with new and better ways of working.

How to get better ideas

Friday, January 19th, 2018

Better ideas

spielCreative problem solving is crucial to everyone’s job now.  Innovation is part of the day job.

Sometimes that means doing new things in new ways.  Sometimes that means new things in old ways or old things in new ways.

There’s two dominant schools of thought on innovation in media.  Professionals who believe that not enough has changed and are sure that there’s radical change in reaching people in the right way, with the right message and at the right time which will grow brands and drive more effective work using new tech.

Others pour scorn on the digital utopia and suggest that the market will swing back to traditional brand building techniques.    (Have you read Ritson on 2018?).

The media landscape has been made less navigable by these contrasting orthodoxies. 

The truth lies in between. 

Because it depends.  On the brand, on the category, on the audience and on the timescales of effectiveness.  We need a steam of better ideas about how to solve new problems. 

The movie mogul Steven Spielberg has been making blockbuster films for decades.  Everyone reading this blog loves one of his films, at least:  Jaws, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Raiders of The Lost Ark….et al.  It is interesting and useful to know that he doesn’t rest on tried and trusted techniques and ways of working despite his amazing body of work and the army of adoring fans and strong critical acclaim.

He could rest on his laurels.  He doesn’t.  With 40+ years of experience he has turned his camera to a new genre of movie, one that is spot on for the current zeitgeist of questionable news and a woman brave enough to speak truth to power.

The Post opens this week.  It tells the story of The Pentagon Papers.  Documents that revealed that the US government had been lying about the Vietnam war.  The documents were initially leaked to the NY Times but President Nixon’s lawyers shut down their ability to publish.  The Washington Post got hold of them and published.  It was a high risk thing to do, one that could have landed the owner and editor in jail.  The owner, Katherine Graham, stood up for truth in the face of the full force of the government shut down. 

Spielberg says it’s his first political thriller.  He says he likes new challenges because he gets all his best ideas when he doesn’t know exactly what he is doing: “I get better ideas when I am standing on my heels, not on the flat of my soles.  It’s because I don’t want to fall, and I need to regain my balance… it’s scary but healthy.”

Want better ideas for problem solving in 2018.  You will need them.  Get on your toes, get outside your comfort zone.  Keep the knowledge and experience that you’ve earned but don’t over rely on them.  Get on your toes. 



Interrogate the evidence

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

keelerIn 1963 the “Profumo Affair” shook the nation.  Government minister John Profumo had been accused of “improper conduct”, ie sleeping with a model named Christine Keeler, who simultaneously was also said to be in a relationship with a Soviet diplomat at the height of the Cold War.  The press ran a story suggesting that her affairs could be threatening national security as pillow talk from the government minister for war might be being passed to the Soviets.  Keeler, who died in December, said of her life post Profumo: “I wasn’t living I was surviving”.

Initially, John Profumo denied everything, with the kind of arrogance about being believed in the face of evidence which was commonplace amongst men of his position and class in those days.  (Perhaps too still in these days, does Adland face a #metoo reckoning?)

Eventually Profumo admitted the truth, that he had lied to parliament and resigned.  Some commentators believe that this was the start of the end of the age of deference to the establishment.  The resignation of the prime minister Harold MacMillan followed within months and eventually, at the next election his Conservative party lost to Labour.

There was another man involved who had introduced Keeler to Profumo and who is now considered a scapegoat who suffered heavily.  Society osteopath Stephen Ward was charged with living off the immoral earnings of Christine Keeler and another woman, Mandi Rice Davies.  He had introduced Keeler to Profumo at the stately home Cliveden owned by pillar of the establishment Lord Astor, and Lord Astor to Rice Davies.  During Ward’s trial, which ended when Ward committed suicide, his defence counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied an affair with Rice Davies or indeed even having met her.  Rice Davies replied with a phrase which became famous and much quoted.  Faced with Astor’s denials Rice Davies said: “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”.

By 1979 this phrase had become part of common speech and entered the Oxford dictionary of quotations.  It is rarely heard or understood today.  It would be a useful phrase to adapt and use to decipher all of the competing “proof” of media effectiveness around at the moment.

When presented with research that justifies the use of a medium or a channel, consider whether “They Would Say That Wouldn’t They?”, (TWSTWT?).  Some Rice Davies inspired healthy skepticism will go a long way to unpick a media neutral growth strategy for brands.

When a particular medium “proves” that using their medium is better than another or when an advertising research study “proves” that advertising works, interrogate exactly what is being proved and what it means.  And always pose the “TWSTWT?” test to see a) how it stacks up versus other claims from other media and b) what third party standard of proof has been applied.

Most research that will reach a planner will be of a robust and decent standard.  Yet conflicting evidence does abound. About how effective video views of a couple of seconds are for example, or the importance of sound as well as vision.  There’s the much used metric of “engagement” which seems to mean something different in every study.  To find the path of greatest effectiveness use TWSTWT? as a first response to the research that is presented. 



Are you feeling positive about 2018?

Friday, January 5th, 2018

18A small poll of business leaders gives mixed results.  With Brexit consequences looming and uncertain negotiations on the horizon there is much insecurity and business leaders don’t like too many variables and the uncertainty that follows.

David Wilding of Twitter was out talking to media and agency heads as 2017 wrapped up and reports many accounts of gloom about prospects for the year ahead.

The nation is of course divided, that’s obvious.  Exactly how it is divided is more complicated.  There’s people who voted Brexit or remain.  There’s those who are positive about the possibilities ahead (however they voted) and those mired in despair about the consequences (however they voted).

As artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to progress there’s fear about job losses and about change.

Machine learning.  There is of course plenty of hype about this.  In fact the Gartner Hype Cycle has machine learning just about at the peak of inflated expectations and at least a couple of years from the plateau of productivity.

There’s plenty of room to test, learn, apply.  Where we have jobs done by humans that can be done by robots faster and better we will make that transition in 2018.  Instead of having humans doing robotic jobs we can empower them to make a difference.

So this is another UK business divide, one clearly reflected in the debates in Campaign and marketing titles.  Two tribes, technophobes and technophiles.

Michael Hayman, who is co-founder of Seven Hills and co-author of “Mission, how the best in business break through”, gave a rousing speech, at The Female Lead’s December gathering, where he suggested that the divide in Britain could be boiled down to one simple divide.  The divide between optimists and pessimists.

Whichever tribe you belong to, you would be an idiot to underestimate the difficulties coming in 2018.  There’s a great deal of change once again on the horizon and many unknowns.

There’s going to be problems to solve.

Problems that we haven’t faced before in exactly the form they’re going to come at us.

There’s only one real resource that we have for combating those problems.

Creativity.  Ideas that work in new ways to solve difficulties that we can’t predict.

Not creativity in the way that it has been defined by “Mad men” in the past.

Not exclusive creativity.  Creativity in everyone.

We’ve a long tradition at MediaCom of training everybody in creativity.  We believe that everyone has a creative streak that can be developed and trained just like a muscle.

At MediaCom we believe in the power of creativity to drive competitive advantage.

We believe that creativity powers great work that grows our clients.

We believe that

–         Creativity belongs to everyone, not a creative department

–         Creativity is human insight fuelled

–         Creativity is data fuelled

–         Creativity is open access and comes from the collaboration of many different agencies and partners

–         Creativity works in every environment in media where the consumers are

–         Creativity inspires desire and can also close the sale and prompt purchase

–         Creativity comes when you go off the beaten track

Best way to face 2018?

Be creative. With creative ideas we can drive real advantage in uncertain times.