Don’t be a turn off

Ubiquitous computing, blended reality, the internet of things, web 5.0 – it is getting pretty obvious that thinking about digital as a separate channel is a silly idea. Over the past decade we have made giant technological leaps with today a billion people connecting to the web via a mobile phone (last year that figure was 500 million, next year it is estimated to be 2 billion!)

Digital technology has not changed us, it has just enabled us to be more social and with the ability to connect almost everywhere at any time we are leaving a digital shadow wherever we go. It is easy to forget how many posts we have uploaded, how many status’ we have made or how many photos we have uploaded. Technology is enabling us to create a public diary sometimes without thinking twice about the information we are sharing with each other. It can be scary how easy it is to access someone else’s identity.

At the same time digital technology is allowing advertisers to target people by taking advantage of this digital exhaust we are leaving behind. This is great news for advertisers who now think they have the right to talk to us and bombard us with as many messages as they can capitalising on our context, timing and browsing behaviour (we now receive anything up to 5,000 ad messages every day!)

Because brands have more access to consumers’ personal doorways than ever it is tempting to talk to an audience at any given chance. A good tip I read the other day was to think about what you are trying to do as if it were a conversation you were having with someone. This should be a good measure as to whether you are really coming up with something engaging for the audience. If you met someone in a bar you wouldn’t want the conversation from that person to consist of them standing in your way giving you a detailed analysis of exactly why you were right for each other and that you shouldn’t be persuaded otherwise that you are a match made in heaven because you share the same interests. This person would be rather off putting as you would have no room to discover for yourself what this person was about as they will have already told you.

This is what some brands are doing. Brands that try too hard, that get the targeting spot on, in the right context but just end up blurting out too much information. They might ask you to play a game with them, spread their viral or like them without thinking about the reward in doing so for the consumer. People are not stupid and they won’t be persuaded. In fact they will find it a bit weird and annoying.
If we are going to have all this wonderful data at our hands because of the digital exhaust which people are leaving in their trail this is great as it helps us to better understand customers. But the downside to this is that the data can be used in completely the wrong way which in turn means customers become weary of giving information to people who they think might end up abusing it.

Brands need to think about their activity like a decent conversation. If they can’t have a decent conversation then they shouldn’t try to make one. They could think about facilitating them instead. Or just listening and attaching themselves to other things which are relevant in people’s lives. The best brands often look like they are not trying.


How do you get hired in an impossible job climate?

Interesting and clever way to promote yourself with social media as Claudio did. A bit of extra effort meant he was able to cut through the standard pdf format clutter. He got the job!

Or is the new way to become an infographic experience?

I think this one might be one of my favourites because it has such stand out. I don’t like people putting their faces on a CV but this one is so compelling and bold who wouldn’t want to find out more about this person? Conveniently placed over his mouth when the recipient scans the code, they are brought to the video of his mouth speaking to the potential employer. Clever stuff.

I want to pick your brain but how do I do it?

Went to a brilliant APG debate with Rory Sutherland, the Herdmeister Mark Earls, John Kearon at Brainjuicer, Nick Southgate and Gemma Calvert.

Each speaker debated how best to understand who we are and what we need to be aware of working in this industry to guide our approach as planners. The success of the event was largely due to each speaker articulating their stance clearly, directly and with energy.

Each speaker presented a model/way of analysing consumer behaviour.

The idea that market research can be more a hinderance than a help was raised in most discussion. (John claims that “we are gloriously emotional” so it is just silly to treat market research as the be all and end all)

John Kearon used the example of the Gorilla ad – it failed Millwood’s Brown pre-testing yet was one of their most successful campaigns. Surely this suggests we need to stop treating research as the Holy Grail and start thinking about communications which make people feel something too?

He talked about a particular technique they use at Brainjuicer show people’s facial expressions with particular emotions and asks people in research to choose a face they identified with the ad the most.

A nice quote from John:

“Emotion is massively more effective and efficient as a measure…if you stop people from feeling you won’t get good work”

Gemma Calvert looks to the role of the subconscious for the answers. Neuroscience is a relatively new model (20 years-ish) but it is causing a a substantial amount of stir within the industry. She talked about the fact that although we think we are in control of our actions, there is in fact so much stuff that happens below our awareness.

She thinks we can use brain imaging to find out what people think – this is the way to update our traditional research methods as opposed to measuring human behaviour on an emotional scale which John Kieron discussed before she spoke.

“Although we think we can feel things like John said, it feels like we have a running commentary that we are in control, I don’t think this is the case”

Rory began his 10 minute slot explaining that there is no single truth in any area of marketing (which immediately made me feel better).

What he did say was that the model whereby

Brand preference + rational persuasion = purchase behaviour


Although not many of us instinctively believed this, it has been a convenient fiction contrived to defend the advertising industry against accusations of working in an underhand fashion.

“If you want a realistic model of what effects human behaviour we have to acknowledge there are more forces than brand preference at work”

This is where I personally become interested by behavioural economics, by Mark’s ‘Herd’ theory amongst others. I think they all point to interesting ideas about the way we behave. It is often irrational, yet advertising still insists many times in that it isn’t. Choice architecture, praxiology, framing effects all these operate very powerfully at a short distance from the moment of purchase. If we get this wrong then the advertising will be less effective.

The tiny biases in human behaviour, the very small changes in the way one can frame a question have a massive effect on the answers people give. A good approach Rory highlighted would be to start as close to the point of decision or purchase as one can, think about the context then work your way back from there.

Whether it was Mark arguing that we are social creatures and need to stop seeing people as calculating machines or Nick Southgate who charmingly stood for his belief that without empathy and addressing our own prejudices first we are doomed if we think we can understand others. All debates pointed to the need for planners to explore and remain interested in a diverse range of disciplines.

The conclusion to the evening? Don’t just use traditional research, it is outdated. It can still be useful if you use it to prove a point but it is chiefly there for clients to feel safe and feel confident in what we are doing. This often doesn’t lead to very exciting work though.

Nick Southgate had a point, we do probably need to start with ourselves first. If we are supposed to be planners and work with the aim to turn human understanding into business advantage then being empathetic and self aware is crucial. Empathy as others have discussed already can be an extremely powerful tool. If one is not empathising with the people they are trying to talk to then they are in the wrong job.

As an industry we are getting better at investigating new models – but it is about time to put them into practice and change the way we work. This is not happening enough yet. When it does things will get very interesting.

What a bloody good idea

I love this. I am one who always does toast like this. I pop it up and realise that due to my impatience it needs to be popped down again for a bit longer.

So Breville have recognised it is clearly not only I who share this experience with a toaster and have introduced the ‘a bit more’ button.

A simple observation of a human habit. Brilliant and I bet they have sold a lot more toasters after introducing this tiny bit of usability design on their products.

Beware of the default!

It is very easy to fall into the trap of doing the same thing. Sometimes when we are busy and have a lot of things happening all at once we switch to default mode. I can be the worst person at doing this. A week goes by and I realise that most of my evening meals contained the same components. Luckily I cook with my flat mate and it is only when we talk about what to have for dinner (which we do a lot) we realize how unadventurous we have been.

There is a point to taking a step back (however busy you are) to question what you are doing, Questioning an approach is important as often you will find that with a bit of reflection there is often a better way to achieve many parts of your day.

This is the same for agencies. Bad agencies in advertising fall into this trap. They operate by default far too much which is why a lot of the work is pretty standard. Having different people who think in completely different ways is so important for an agency to be a good one.

This is a not exactly a brainwave but it really hit me yesterday when I went to Goodge Street – the heart of adland, to chat to people my age in similar roles. It scared me. Similar backgrounds, similar values, similar voices, even similar mannerisms. We were all the same! I am not saying this is bad. In certain contexts it’s great – this is how and why we have friends and get into relationships.

But I did get home that evening and thought about how important it is to try to remain interested in things aside from the day job, to understand our culture by exploring from different angles. This is crucial particularly if you work in communications. This is why having a mixed bunch of people to inspire the agency culture and the people in it are so important as they are ultimately a reflection of an agency’s approach.

Sometimes when I look at the London advertising industry I do get a bit down at the lack of diversity. There is no excitement or drama. Which is why tension is a good thing, people that disagree with what you say is good. Those clashes in characters can lead to some great work so we need to bring on the misfits to nurture the creativity and make sure we try and avoid falling into default mode as much as we can.

Adapting a developed society

Is it possible for us to live sustainably?

As part of Naked Planet I attended the Global Business of Biodiversity Symposium at the London Excel yesterday.

It was a huge meeting place for Government, Business and NGOs operating across all industrial sectors to talk about the issues surrounding biodiversity loss.

There were some great speakers there. Particularly a guy from Arup called Peter Head who spoke about sustainable cities. Some of the innovative ways which we can transform the cities in UK were astounding and also quite beautiful.

Just imagine if we made the most of our rooftops for all the megacities across the world to embrace sustainable living like this impressive video for Manchester shows:

Obviously this issue is far from simple and wacking a few roof top gardens on top of cities but these types of projects and thinking have huge potential to change the way we live.

Ich bin ein Berliner

I know that sometimes it is great being alone and having head space to be in your own thoughts. But those alone moments are only bliss because you compare them to when you are busy and life is manic.

If you don’t have people around you, things seem pointless and get a bit depressing. I think that is why I love Berlin so much. It always seems to amaze me every time I go. I love the city – the food, the culture, the sights but more than that the people there are brilliant.

The more I go the more I realise how different I feel being there. I think it might be because I am in ‘holiday’ mode but I am so much more relaxed and more easy going. Because of this, when I went with my close friends we met a lot of people from different backgrounds and laughed most of the day.

My friends and I made a pact to be in London but look at it through a Berlin mode lens. I have started to do that since I have got back and I already feel better (and am already in the process of planning my next trip!)

Berlin thrives on tourism. Tourism in Berlin contributes around 7 percent of GDP. In New York, it’s around 3.5 percent. Many people would be surprised at this but I can totally understand why it is still such a popular place.