Archive for the ‘MediaComment’ Category

The one thing you must have to win in 2023: an asymmetrical advantage. 

Wednesday, January 18th, 2023

Here’s two ways of achieving this.  Better use of data than your competition.  Better imagination (powered by better empathy and creativity).

Author and journalist Derek Thompson says Moneyball has ruined baseball for him.  And ruined the music charts (he’s an expert here with his book Hit Makers, the science of popularity in an age of distraction), and in his opinion has also ruined most forms of entertainment, and pretty much culture in general.

For those of you who have missed the 2003 book and the 2011 movie, Moneyball, the art of winning an unfair game, detail the way that use of data and analytics propelled a failing baseball team up the league.  They inspired the same precision of insight into a wealth of other areas to create significant competitive advantage.

Except that once everyone is practicing precision data analysis, there is no longer significant breakthrough advantage.  It becomes table stakes.

Of course, if you are first in sector then your advantage is huge.  The first team to apply Moneyball techniques in baseball, Oakland Athletics, under manager Billy Beane rocketed up the league.  But the book’s author, Michael Lewis, who made Billy famous, has acknowledged that the success of the book worked to the detriment of the team by democratizing the use of data and empiricism over gut feel and instinct. 

Thompson argues that “The analytics revolution, which began with the movement known as Moneyball, led to a series of offensive and defensive adjustments that were, let’s say, catastrophically successful” and took the unpredictability and pizzazz from the game of baseball. 

I’m going to disagree with Thompson.  The relentless application of data does not always lead to predictability, it does not end here.  The last football world cup was full of surprises, despite universal use of detailed data.  Germany went home early, Italy didn’t even get there, Belgium, who were the second ranked team in the world going in, were also out earlier than expected. Morocco got unexpectedly to the semis. 

Good analytical skills haven’t made the beautiful game predictable.  VAR didn’t make the game boring.  As we enter an era of AI mastery of marcomms data we must ask ourselves what will happen to competitive advantage and focus our attention on how to win on the back of and in conjunction with data knowledge.  Because there is significant disadvantage to a single focus.  Any business that places all its eggs in one big data basket runs the risk of being Moneyballed. 

It will not be enough to be great at data analytics, businesses will need specifically to seek knowledge asymmetry to win an edge.  And there’s more.  They will need star players – who is your Messi?  They will need emotional resilience and inventiveness.  They will need empathy and understanding of their customers in the face of a grim economy and an environment of worsening news stories.   They will need leadership and vision.  They will need the backing of the board and a simple communicable strategy.  They will need gut feel and instinct.

Great marcomms will be based on a range of unfair advantages.

Empathy and imagination can elevate analytical information into transformational insights and execution.

Creativity will become even more crucial as our industry becomes more Moneyball. 

The need for breakthrough thinking and behaviour of every kind is going to be more important than ever.

Advertising has got better

Wednesday, January 4th, 2023

This might be a controversial statement for some.  And it depends of course on what you regard as “better”.  After all we are no longer in the so-called Golden Age of Advertising.  Creative legend and OG Dave Trott has recently posted lots of great ads on Twitter with his notes on how they cut through and were mould breaking.  This includes his Victory V ad with a man with his head blown off.   His comment: “Did this poster with Derrick Hass – no headline, no copy, no logo. In those days we trusted consumers to have a bit more nous.”

Maybe some (great) creatives did. 

There were lots of less subtle messages too.  I grew up in an era where TV ads told you that you weren’t a good mum if you didn’t buy your kids a certain breakfast cereal.  Where if you didn’t buy the right kind of cleaning product you were sloppy.  Where women were perfect or perfectly awful and men never did the housework. You could characterise it as bombardment to maintain the status quo from 1950s society norms.  The 2018 ASA report concludes that there was plenty of evidence that there still had to be a tougher line on ads featuring stereotypical gender roles, including ads which mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.

This has changed, this has got better.

I spoke at United Nations General Assembly in New York in September for the World Women Foundation about the role that media and advertising can play in making the world more equal for women and girls.

I said that the industry had come a long way since my childhood when ads largely supported the status quo of depicting subservient women.  Increasingly advertisers and their agencies are seeking to fulfil profit goals whilst also doing something to make the world better. 

Dove’s campaign for real beauty is of course one example of this.  In India Ariel campaigns for couples to Share the Load.  Always Like a girl, highlights inequalities in attitudes.  eBay UK & Black Girl Fest partnered to expand economic opportunities for Black women ecommerce founders. in Peru when Mibanco discovered that more women were paying back their loans and building up savings than men, they wanted to make a stand and empower those that had previously been denied financial liberty. The Emancipation Loan, removed the need for a second signature from a woman’s husband in order to access lines of credit, enabling women to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, without asking for permission.

In addition advertisers play a role in making the world safer for women and girls

Vodafone in Turkey created an app that women could use in secret to get help when they were in danger of domestic abuse. The app was hidden within a flashlight app, all a woman needed to do was shake her phone and a message along with her location would be sent to three people she trusts.

Every time a women searched in Google in Columbia for any word related to domestic violence they would see a video created by an influencer, her face bruised and battered.

Every viewer who watched the video was tracked. The next time they searched one of our queries a more dramatic video would be shown, featuring Estefania suffering from an even more brutal attack. In total, there were 230 different films, personalised in real time, and a huge up turn in women seeking help.

Artificial intelligence created a stand out campaign against domestic violence in Israel.  The videos use the voice of each victim — as well as realistic facial features and gestures — to convey the message that someone living in the reality of domestic abuse can and should get out before it’s too late.

MediaCom were proud to work with the Home Office and Channel 4 on a campaign to highlight the issue of coercive control in the biggest teen soap of the time, HollyOaks.

Things have come a long way. They have got better.  If we all take a real responsibility in our choices they will can and will get better still.  We can all make a difference.

There are 48 creative techniques.  Here’s number 9: Strip it back.

Tuesday, November 29th, 2022

Rick Rubin is a legendary American music producer, co-founder with Russell Simmons of Def Jam, home to Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Run DMC.  According to MTV in 2007, he was the most important producer of the previous two decades.  He’s also produced Red Hot Chilli Peppers getting them their breakthrough album, and his work with Johnny Cash repositioned him as an artist (not just a pop musician). JayZ’s 99 problems?  Resolved by Rubin.

When Lauren Laverne interviewed him recently she noted that in the many pictures she had seen of him at work most don’t show him at a mixing deck, but lying on a sofa with his shoes off, or meditating.

He replied that he has no technical skill at all.  His technique revolves around listening, understanding what is going on in his body while he listens, and looking for the times when he feels something: laughter, joy, the instinct to lean forward.  He then strips back the musical performance to reveal more of that aspect.

His first music credit therefore on LL Cool J’s debut album, Radio was not as “producer” but as “reducer”.

He doesn’t follow the “rules” of recording technique.  He looks for the essence, the truth, the rawness of emotion, and takes out the clutter that stops that shining through.

Listening and feeling don’t always feel like legitimate work.  Here’s SlipKnot’s lead singer on his view of Rubin’s techniques from an interview published in The Ringer.

“Let me give you the fucking truth of it. Rick Rubin showed up for 45 minutes a week. Yeah. Rick Rubin would then, during that 45 minutes, lay on a couch, have a mic brought in next to his face so he wouldn’t have to fucking move. I swear to God. And then he would be, like, ‘Play it for me.’ The engineer would play it. And he had shades on the whole time. Never mind the fact that there is no sun in the room. It’s all dark. You just look like an asshole at that point. And he would just stroke his huge beard and try and get as much food out of it as he could. And he would go, ‘Play it again.’ And then he’d be, like, ‘Stop! Do that over.’”

This is a creative technique that lifts good to great.  When we make arguments to persuade and to sell our work we often rely predominantly on evidence and logic.  Frequently we follow the rules of the category because to do so gives us credibility.

It takes bravery to know the rules, be expert in the category and then to follow a totally different path.

It takes courage to strip back work to the essence.  Individuals often add arguments and proof points to give them confidence in the presentation and selling of work. 

Adding logic, adding elements and feeling good with the list of evidence can give you comfort.

Listening, feeling, doing less and then stripping things back to their essence, that can give you greatness.

Don’t work in an echo chamber

Tuesday, November 15th, 2022

Back to live events.

It’s great to be able to attend conferences in person again.  The IPA Effworks week of sessions was vibrant, informative and stimulating.

But have you ever (at other conferences of course, never the IPA), ended up feeling that you have been shortchanged because the panel on stage just end up agreeing with each other, or selling their particular point of view without real scrutiny from the other panellists?

In an era when disruption is everywhere and new models of thinking are essential, it can be disappointing if you don’t hear or engage in real debate.

One IPA EffWeek panel particularly made me reflect on this, (and not just because it was the one that I was chairing.)

The idea of the panel, from the IPA director of marketing strategy Janet Hull OBE, was inspired.  The Battle of the Shares, which I presided over, involved three spokespeople with different views on the best solution for planning campaigns.  Which is best: Share of Voice ? (championed by Shula Sinclair, Msix CSO); Share of Search? (James Hankins, VP of Sage); Share of attention? (Mike Follett, MD, Lumen).  You can see their rationales here.

There was absolutely no chance in this instance of a panel that began and/or ended up in deep agreement with itself.  Each panelist presented their case, and then was grilled by the other two.  And then by the erudite audience, online and in real life. Then there was a shout out vote (the least scientific part of the process) and audience participation was superb and lively.

It was a great format, and it made me reflect that we can miss opportunities for driving the argument forward if we are too quick to jump to consensus.  As Matthew Syed puts it in Rebel Ideas, the power of diverse thinking, if we only surround ourselves with those who think like us, life is an echo chamber and that gets you literally nowhere in terms of getting to grips with grim realities of today’s chaotic times.

The panellists above are to be congratulated for being brave enough to have a strong debate in front of the entire IPA effectiveness community.  Not a prospect everyone would relish.

The ancient Jewish court the Sanhedrin had diversity of thinking baked in.  If there was a unanimous vote to convict the accused, then it was thrown out and the accused was exonerated. He walked away free.    The assumption was that if no-one could speak in favour of the accused, then the jury had developed group thinking.  Group thinking is of course unfair and unhelpful. 

Yet we love to agree with each other.  It’s a basic human instinct, it’s a remnant perhaps of the necessities for survival of the tribe in stone age times.

Every time a panel ends up agreeing, the opportunity for a new unthought of route is lost.  Every time you vote on ideas in a workshop openly, and everyone can see which ideas have the most votes, then the chance of real innovation is diminished.  Innovation and Herd behaviour don’t mix. If no one can find an issue with the proposed solution then maybe you haven’t looked at it hard enough.  If you only ever hear from your team that they agree with you then you’re surely not getting the best out of them.

Design for disagreement as a crucial stage for building new ideas.   If there is too much focus on consensus the lost opportunity might cost you the future.

Stop judging.

Friday, October 28th, 2022
Easy A

Watching old movies on a long haul flight I caught the 2010, teen movie Easy A with Emma Stone.  It’s essentially a movie about judgement.  Loosely (very loosely) based on the Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne, it recounts the experience of Olive, who is condemned for being promiscuous based on rumour – to be fair much of which she brings on herself.  One thing is clear, Olive can’t get through high school without being judged. 

At the recent conference I attended in NYC (hence the flight, and opportunity to spend time with old movies), the topic of women being judged came up at the World Woman Foundation UNGA conferenceKrista Webster, vc at Stagwell Global, chaired a panel on entrepreneurship and economic empowerment for women.  And it seems as though most business women also can’t get through their career without being judged, and that it is one of the causes of a lack of fairness in their career progression. 

Men still dominate the world of business, though women business start-ups have been increasing and according to Earthweb data released this week 43% of all global entrepreneurs are women.  However, funding from VCs is still massively skewed towards men.  According to Sanja Partalo, co-founder and managing partner of S4S Ventures, less than 5% of funds goes to women.  Women entrepreneurs are 2x more likely to get funding from women VCs.  There are only 2% of funds led by women.  Her advice to would be women entrepreneurs: “You have to be persistent and relentless”. 

Also this week research was published by Samsung, which shows that the same gendered judgements and issues are around today as existed 7 years ago when Kathryn Jacob and I wrote The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business.  We garnered headlines back in 2016 for our advice to never pour the tea at work.  The new Samsung research says that women are still more likely to be asked to make tea, and how they cope with having children than men in the same role.  Whilst research for our latest book, with Mark Edwards, Belonging, the key to diversity, inclusion and equality at work, by Dynata, reveals that when asked whether they would rather be liked or respected at work, more women say they value being respected.  More men would prefer to be liked.  Perhaps men take respect more for granted?

Back to the WWF conference: Janneidy Velazquez, diversity lead at BMW, talked about the importance of making, and owning mistakes.  As I continually make mistakes and try to own them, and learn from them, I was inspired to hear her say that in fact mistakes need to be made.  For instance, interracial relationships were once a “mistake” as far as some societal conventional wisdom is concerned.   We should now celebrate all those who pioneered in this respect to change attitudes.  Taking judgements too hard means that people, and perhaps evidence shows particularly women, don’t feel safe to challenge the status quo. 

According the panellists on economic empowerment for women it is only failure that makes you appreciate the sweet smell of success.

Women of business: Eschew judgement, make mistakes, don’t make the tea.