Archive for February, 2020

They’re coming and they’re alive!

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

WALL-E. SADNESS“The cuteness of robots may make us lower our guard and forget questions of privacy and security”.

This warning comes from Cherie Lacey, writing in Cosmo back in 2017.  Your day to day interactions with robots may be different to mine, but I wouldn’t characterise them as super cute.

In fact, individuals, who are leading how tech is transforming our industry, seem frequently to have a recurring question about the balance between the speed and efficiency that tech promises and the workload that it creates now to put it in place.

This is in big contrast with the machine robot revolution that liberated millions of women from their household chores last century.  Whilst the current gen of robots are seemingly making more work for individuals or shifting the balance of who does the work (after all phone banking means that you do the work instead of a bank teller), the introduction of the vacuum cleaner and washing machine meant significant time saved at home which allowed huge change in women’s lives.

In 1900, the average household spent 58 hours a week on housework, including meal preparation, laundry, and cleaning—a figure that dropped to 18 hours in 1975.  A US housewife, Mrs Verrett, reported to one survey that her washing took her 4 hours to wash by hand. With her new washing machine this transformed to 41 minutes.  Without the machine she walked 3,181 feet to do the washing versus 332 feet with the machine.  In 1920, an article in the Ladies’ Home Journal entitled “Making Housekeeping Automatic” claimed that appliances could save a four-person family 18.5 hours a week in housework.

This machine revolution freed up women to take jobs outside the home and boosted the economy, with more leisure time and more disposable income to spend on it.

One question this poses is: When the robot revolution frees up media people what will they spend their time on?

Planning for this is an essential part of any business in our sector’s transformation agenda.  This isn’t just about getting the robots working.  It is about how to leverage the benefits across the whole agency.

The second issue that Lacey’s comment raises is privacy and confidentiality.  Security of data is the business of media agencies, and managing this is our trade.  In life outside the walls of agencies though robots are getting smaller and cleverer, and yes they are coming alive.

To date, despite huge differences between the robots of science fiction and the robots in our offices, there has been one firm similarity as The Economist pointed out in January.  They are mechanical, built from metal and plastic and stuffed with electronics.

This won’t be the case in future.  A team at the University of Vermont and Tufts University have designed organic robots from biological cells.  Just a millimetre in size these xenobots can move and perform simple tasks.  They are capable of behaving autonomously and might be capable of reproducing themselves.  Currently they have short lives, a couple of weeks at most, and they can’t nourish themselves, but all of this is open to experimentation, and may need regulation, as it raises the possibility of “escapees establishing themselves in the wild”.

Super cute robots sound joyful in comparison to this.



How to be happy

Tuesday, February 4th, 2020

happy dancersAdvertising makes people unhappy.

This news comes from Professor Oswald of the University of Warwick who asserts that the higher ad spend is the more miserable people become.

He says this is because ads make us want what we don’t or can’t have and comments: “The idea is a very old one: Before I can decide how happy I am, I have to look over my shoulder, consciously or subconsciously, and see how other people are doing”.  So status anxiety is to blame, status anxiety which we know is an innate human drive.

Oswald and his team compared life satisfaction data of over 900k European citizens in 27 countries with ad spend  from 1980 to  2011 and found an inverse connection ie as ad spend grew, satisfaction declined.

Is this another condemnation of our industry?

Does this make the ad industry the enemy?

Or is there something more profound to read into this survey’s results?

Ad spend follows consumption.  Arguably as citizens of a country have an increase in disposable income their problem list changes – it moves from worrying about whether they are safe on the street, and violence, to worrying about who has the best phone, car, shoes, watch.

The problems ascend Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

On the one hand then, maybe if you’re unhappy about whether you have all the things you see advertised, it’s a lot better than being unhappy about your physical safety or whether you have enough to eat or a whether what you say will get you arrested.

Happiness is an elusive emotion.  You’ll be happy if you do not want what you do not have, as Sinead O’Connor once sang, but ensuring psychological calm is not the role of advertising, however angsty agency people might get around purpose.  (Seekers instead must refer to art, music, literature, religion, self help and spirituality.)

This survey then, which features in the thought leading HBR, should not be a trigger of more outrage about our profession.  It’s a description what happens when human nature gets to develop in comfort, rather than in conditions of stress.  Just as any contented sibling soon learns to want exactly the toy that their sibling is playing with, or only to want to sit in the buggy if it is already occupied by another child, the yearning that can be stimulated by advertising is simply unavoidable.

We cannot take responsibility for the happiness of nations, but we can take responsibility to ensure that our advertising appeals to the better side of human nature.  We can combine purpose with commerce as many best practice case studies have revealed.  When Skittles removed the rainbow from their packaging, they sold more product and raised awareness of Pride.  When Lloyds created a programme about better communications in the family unit about money they solved a painful dilemma as well as improving saliency.

Media strategy is our responsibility too, we must ensure that chasing audience numbers is not done through bombardment or from appealing to the worst of human instincts.

And if we want to be happy in 2020, then we need to focus on what is most important.