Archive for the ‘MediaComment’ Category

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.

Sex sells: A proposal for Sexuality Offsetting

Friday, October 14th, 2022

Access to modern contraception is vital to the empowerment of women and girls worldwide.  There are 160 million women worldwide who do not have access and a $59bn cost to fulfilling unmet contraception needs.  Even when contraception is available, cultural pressures: social norms, traditional gender stereotypes, prejudices and stigmas mean that many women do not have the choices that are available to most readers of this blog.

One session at the recent World Woman Foundation’s United Nations General Assembly 77 conference focussed on the inequalities that this engenders across the globe.

I was privileged to be part of a panel that ran later that day speaking about media and activism for an equal future for women and girls.  And what I heard at the session on contraception, combined with the insights of the later panel, prompted a significant new provocation to the media, advertising and entertainment industry to take responsibility for a better and more equal future for everyone.

Sex sells.  From music videos, through TV shows, to advertising, sexuality is used to drive audiences and sales. 

Yet unprotected sex costs lives, curbs choices and represses opportunity.

Just as our industry has universally adopted carbon offsetting to ensure that businesses take responsibility for a better climate future so too should the industry adopt a sexuality offsetting responsibility.

This would mean that if you are using sexuality to sell product or drive audiences and views then you would also contribute to dealing with the unintended consequences.  This could include making a contribution to the provision of contraception in the developing world where it is not freely available, or to ensure that you are actively involved in keeping responsible contraception front of mind for young people – of every gender –  everywhere, by contributions to charities and NGOs and by creating content and education.  It could mean provision of free condoms in your office, just as many organisations now offer sanpro.

Brands, movies, TV, music and media use sex to sell.   Its less blatant in advertising than it was in the 1970s and 80s but in reality TV shows, drama, movies and pop videos it is in some ways more explicit.  Using sexuality to sell is still widespread and prevalent.  Its not hard to understand why – humans are hardwired to notice sexual references and imagery.  Sex gets attention.  Attention helps to cut through the clutter and the noise of competing products and images.  

Contraception should not be a controversial issue.  It is not only an issue for those who might get pregnant.  The panel at UNGA77: Lori Adelman, Geralyn Ritter, Karl Hofmann and Dr. Julitta Onabanjo were clear that when women are able to make better and more active choices in terms of giving birth then this leads to better outcomes for society in terms of education, economic independence and health.  The panel chair, Lori Adelman, asked the very distinguished audience in New York to raise their hands if they could acknowledge that their ability to make controlled choices about giving birth had contributed to their current status and ability to attend such a prestigious conference.  99% of hands were raised.  Its easy to think that this issue doesn’t affect the world if you are in a position where you have had control and choice.  For millions of women worldwide this is not a choice they have.  Karl Hofman, ceo of Population Services International was clear: there is still huge resistance to better choices for women from the forces of “patriarchy, tradition and misogyny.” Geralyn Ritter, head of external affairs at Organon, said: “Women must raise their voices, education is needed for young people and for politicians, advocacy is essential”.

The later panel, on the impact media has on society, with Traci Otey Blunt, Adrianne C. Smith, Marjan Neshat, Karen Bystedt, Cheryl Fox and me, was agreed that there is huge change and transformation ahead.  We discussed the huge impact media can have in terms of positive advocacy for change for a more equal future.

If you have influence in our industry, if you have a voice, you can help to make positive choice for women and girls have a bigger priority so that all women and girls can achieve their promise.

Making this change, a change to ensure a better outcome for women and girls through media in terms of responsibly offsetting sexuality, will ensure a more equal future for the world.

Ensuring that the price is right

Monday, September 26th, 2022

Pricing is a marketing issue, especially as cost of living crisis mounts.

“We should not talk down the power of advertising in the wider marketing mix. When a brand buys advertising, it sends a message: that it wants to be noticed and win approval, that it wants to generate desire and drive behaviour.” Gideon Spanier, Campaign editor in chief.

Of course, one other thing that advertising does is drive a price differential versus other, less desirable, brands.  And in the cost of living crisis, it is crucial that marketing has influence, a significant one, on pricing.

The great Jeremy Bullmore once cautioned the audience of marketers at a MediaCom conference against focussing too tightly on the core target market for any brand.  In the face of a step change in the availability of data to calculate pinpoint precision of targeting ads at those, and only at those, in the market to buy a brand (in this case a luxury car) in the next 3 months he said: “If brand x only ever targeted people in the market to buy the car in the next quarter, there would soon be far fewer of them.  Because one of the reasons that you pay the premium to buy that luxury car is to be the envy of all of those who cannot afford to do so.”

Luxury cars has been an outlier category, in as much as the performance of most modern cars is satisfactory.  The electric car marketplace is shaking up this norm but in the past the premium lay largely in the prestige of the brand, of the marque and this was highly influenced by great advertising and of course entertainment in general (Bond and Aston Martin for example).  To use the category recently cited by Tom Darlington, there is less brand premiumisation for instance for a toilet cleaning product, but still advertising drives brand recognition and memory structures and therefore should allow a premium in terms of pricing.

As the guru of effectiveness, Jane Christian, managing partner at MediaCom, puts it: “we see strong brands benefit from inelastic pricing”.  In other words when prices go up by 1% you might expect to see sales drop by a proportionate amount.  She goes on to say: “if the brand is strong enough, then there may be only a minimal or even zero drop in sales.”

Here then is one effect of growing demand in the right way and driving value for the business. McKinsey estimate that raising prices by 1% without losing sales can, on average, boost operating profits by over 8%.

Pricing systems are therefore crucial, and Artificial Intelligence advances are stepchanging their effectiveness.  The Economist reported recently that the latest AI charged models “can spot patterns and relationships between multiple items.” The models scrape social media sentiment and product reviews. 

We can look forward to a marketplace for many products where pricing is more volatile than we have experienced in the past.  Some consumer segments may find this challenging – those who hunt for a bargain will have to put more homework in; those who just don’t like to be ripped off may have to do the same.  And this in itself may affect brand perception.  If you have a reputation as a brand that is good value for money, your pricing choices may need some marketing input on top of the AI.

There are 48 ways to transform creativity. Here’s the 7th. Go outside.

Tuesday, September 13th, 2022

Going outside is a transition, a transformation.  And readily available when anyone is stuck for ideas. Going outside can be the start of a new adventure.

There are, of course, more than one way to go outside: you can go through a door, step outside of your social or work bubble, dive into the natural world, exit your comfort zone, experience a liminal space. 

The exemplary of going through a doorway in many UK childhoods is when Dr Who steps outside the Tardis and a new adventure begins accompanied of course by the  Vwoorp Vwoorp sound of the Dr Who Tardis landing.  The sound triggers excitement of knowing that a new adventure is beginning each time the Doctor steps outside the Tardis.  (Always a bit disappointing if they just ended up in modern day Britain, even if the daleks were attacking. Such a letdown and inexplicable until you understand the production budget had run out.)

Going through a doorway can signify the start of a new way of looking at things for us all.  Inside is control and organisation.  Outside there may be chaos, randomness.  Inside is known, outside is unknown.

In the workplace we all need to step outside the office bubble.  All great advertising strategists are curious about other people’s lives.  The ad agency bubble cliché where creatives are accused of producing work for other people like themselves, for an audience of Soho House members, exists for a reason.  Often a list of awards will showcase work that pleases peers more than it excites the public.  But great work transcends this to speak to the consumers’ lives and understand what they genuinely care about.

You can’t plan for that in a capital city bubble.  You have to dive into the lives of the prospective audience, get outside of the office, and go where they hang out, where they live, and immerse yourself in what they care about.  A rundown highstreet will tell you more about buyers of many products than going to an office everyday.  The “Back to the office” evangelists need to take note that time spent in a café in a suburb might be more insightful and inspirational than filling in post it notes with Sharpies.  Yes, teams need to cluster, but not necessarily in WC1 or EC2.  Go outside of your normal office space.

Get outside into some nature. Research studies have proved the impact of green spaces on mental health.  If you can take your challenges or problems that need solving with creativity outside and sit with them there then you should find the outside helps your thinking to flow.

Go outside your comfort zone.  This doesn’t have to be extreme, it doesn’t have to be stressful.  It is necessary for growth.  Psychologists have a term for healthy development and growth.   Vygotsky’s concept of the “Zone of Proximal Development” posits that human potential is theoretically limitless; but the practical limits of human potential depend upon quality social interactions and residential environment. This ZPD is “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance (for children) or in collaboration with more capable peers”. In other words, its not about being brave, you don’t need to sky dive.  But do reach out to colleagues and mentors for help in stretching into the mildly uncomfortable zone.  Go beyond your immediate capabilities.  The rewards are immense.

My recent experience in entering (and winning) a worldwide creative competition is one example of this.  You will know your own boundaries, for some, its challenging their conservatism, for others its changing jobs, partners or learning a new skill, hobby or making new friends.   

Go outside the space you are in.  The very act of going through a doorway or a portal, being in a liminal space, is renowned in story telling as magical.  It’s a transitional moment, the gateway from one state to another.  Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan monk and writer describes this space as “where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown.  There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence.  There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence.  That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin.”

Liminal spaces can be uncomfortable.  But many people believe that you cannot begin afresh until you have separated from the old, in jobs, in relationships and in self care.  In the nothingness of liminal space you can recreate a new version of yourself.  Surely one of the greatest acts of creativity of all.