It’s Future of Advertising Time Again. About the (Allegedly New) Crisis of Advertising.

Posted in Brands and Business,communications,media, culture and society,planning by thomas on the November 26th, 2010

So apparently it’s „The Future of Advertising“ time. Again.

There’s a a Fast Company article with that title compiling interviews with a host of well-respected industry people circulating, that was as usual followed by a storm of retweets and opinions. While the arguments are all valid and interesting and while I certainly have an opinion about the topic myself, I immediately had to think of something I wrote in 2008 (in German) when I was analyzing the then darling of the advertising industry – ‚viral‘ advertising – for my bachelor thesis. So because I still think it’s true, I thought it might be a good idea to translate the piece. Here is the trimmed down version:

One thing that concepts like ‚guerilla marketing‘, ‚viral‘ marketing or ‚viral‘ advertising all have in common is a more or less implicit assumption of a crisis of advertising: ‚annoyance by advertising‘, ‚flood of advertising‘ and ‚avoidance of advertising‘ are the commonly used concepts in the discourse.

Say ‘design’ and people think Rams, Ives, Eames. Say advertising and they think Cillit Bang.

… Russell Davies wrote in his blog in 2008. And he’s certainly not wrong. However, people’s attitude towards advertising is a bit paradox. While advertising (in general) provokes exactly the above mentioned reactions, advertising (in particular cases) is often remembered with joy, as Zurstiege (2005: 26ff) shows in his research. While zapping and DVRs lead to growing pains for advertisers, there are hundreds of ads on YouTube with thousands or even millions of views. [At the point when I wrote this, there was no Old Spice or Write The Future to refer to but only a Gorilla playing the drums.] All this approaches like ‚viral‘ advertising, ‚viral‘ marketing, guerilla marketing and whatnot tried to fulfill their effect by packing themselves as an „entertainment present“ (Zurstiege 2007: 143) and to therefore counteract advertising avoidance and advertising annoyance.

I believe if you want to be successful in the world of viral, you need to play by the rules of entertainment, not the rules of selling.

(Kevin Roddy 2006)

Entertainment, however, isn’t exactly a new approach. All along, at least in theory advertising tried to bring outstanding things to the consumers‘ eyes. This is – after all, what led to the aestheticisation of advertising through the employment of renowned artists in the 19th century in the first place (Zurstiege 2007: 22f).

Leaving advertising annoyance and advertising avoidance aside for a second, there’s of course also a lack of trust in the effects of advertising. As a representative for this part of the discourse who’s better to quote than Philip Kotler:

The average American is exposed to several hundred ad messages a day and is trying to tune out. TV advertising is losing its effectiveness because of growing advertising clutter, the increasing number of channels, the availability of zapping mechanisms, and reduced watching of television by certain groups. The result is that marketers must consider other methods of getting consumer attentions.

(Kotler 2005)

This chain of reasoning – information overload, explosion of channels, media use – is found in pretty much every introducing statement of pretty much every alternative approach:

Because of an increasing amount of media and advertising, DVRs and the changed media use, even more since the rise of the internet, we need new methods to solve the crisis of advertising.

That’s how it goes. And be it online-advertising, PR, event marketing or the much quoted ‚integrated communication‘, all of them are united by the fact that they lay claim to the leadership role in clients‘ marketing budget. [And the same may be said about ‚transmedia‘ and ‚crowdsourceing‘ and whatever other approach …]. But while information overload might partly explain the development of new approaches that aim at media content spreading digitally, even this isn’t a new phenomenon. What we have institutionalized as ‚information overload‘ and ‚advertising clutter‘ already had a name in the 19th century: Schilderpest (’signboard plague‘) (Zurstiege 2008: 129).

Advertising was finished from the outset. [„Die Werbung war von Anfang an am Ende.“]

(Schmidt 2004: 53ff)

The accusation of lying, the persistant suspicion of manipulation, the ’sensory overload‘ and the identity crisis because of the supposed incapability to produce socially and culturally relevant outcomes (cf. Schmidt 2004: 54), are all derived from the social functional system advertising itself. [It’s in it’s DNA, if you want to say it like that.]

Advertising produces scarcity of attention by achieving attention. Advertising needs bad advertising to stand out with good. Advertising – as a system – necessarily produces its own problems and solves it by adapting to changing social conditions (ibid. 73f). Advertising – and this is also shown by the appearance of ‚viral advertising‘ [insert buzzword here] – lives on new problems which can then be opposed by the creation of new and differentiating approaches (ibid. 74). The crisis of advertising [and therefore the question about it’s future] isn’t new, but an essential part of the system, the permanently repeats itself under different circumstances.

Sources:

  • Davies, Russel (2008): on the goodness and badness of advertising
  • Kotler, Philip: Advertising vs. PR: Kotler on Kotler.
  • Kotler, Philip/Bliemel, Friedhelm (2006): Marketing-Management. Analyse, Planung und Verwirklichung. 10., überarbeitete und aktualisierte Auflage. München [u.a.]: Pearson Studium.
  • Roddy, Kevin (2006) in Leonard, Devin (2006): Viral Ads: It’s an Epidemic. In: Fortune. New York: 2. Oktober 2006, 154. Jg., Heft 7/2006, 61.
  • Schmidt, Siegfried J. (2004): Die Werbung ist vom Anfang an am Ende. In: Die Depression der Werbung : Berichte von der Couch / Berliner KommunikationsFORUM e.V. Sebastian Kemmler … (Hrsg.).Göttingen: Business Village, 53-77.
  • Zurstiege, Guido (2005): Zwischen Kritik und Faszination. Was wir beobachten, wenn wir die Werbung beobachten, wie sie die Gesellschaft beobachtet. Köln: Halem.
  • Zurstiege, Guido (2007): Werbeforschung. Konstanz: UVK-Verl.-Ges.
  • Zurstiege, Guido (2008): Der Konsum Dritter Orte. In: Kai-Uwe Hellmann (2008): Räume des Konsums: Über den Funktionswandel von Räumlichkeit im Zeitalter des Konsumismus. Wiesbaden: VS, Verl. für Sozialwissenschaften.
(Guido Zurstiege and Siegfried Schmidt are renowned professors for communication, media and culture in Germany and among the few who have specifically focused on advertising.)

On „Changing Education Paradigms“

Posted in media, culture and society by thomas on the November 21st, 2010

Excellent talk by Sir Ken Robinson.

What I find most interesting is the fact that the system we live in seems to be so institutionalized that it kept working for quite a while, and still does for now, even though we haven’t put a focus on divergent thinking, nope, we even systematically destroy it and the life and openness it brings about. Montaner even goes so far as to say that the social and cultural capital our society has created appears to compensate what is usually measured as „declining intellectual capabilities“ – such as reading and maths – among my generation.

Standardization is in high demand for this system. The question is how long it’s going to survive.

Master Thesis Topic (update)

Posted in academia,Brands and Business,communications,media, culture and society by thomas on the November 20th, 2010

After getting a lot of useful comments (thank you!) on my initial brainstorming on possible topics for my master thesis I cut them down to three and handed in a description of three very broad topics, all with some more concrete research questions: (1) ‚Post-Postmodern‘ Uses of Brands and Media?, (2) ‚Continuities from Propaganda Theory to Planning:‘ and (3) Reception and Usage of ‚Transmedia‘ Narratives.

So here’s my translated description of topic (1), that I handed in before leaving and which has got a strong endorsement from the prof while I was in Tanzania.

‚Post-Postmodern‘ Uses of Brands and Media?

According to Holt (2002) there are two relevant branding paradigms in the 20th century. The first is called „Modern Branding“ and was based on a domineering, cultural engineering approach. It was dominant until the 60s, when the ‚creative revolution‘ around people like Bill Bernbach appeared.

Marketers made no pretense about their intentions in these branding efforts. They directed consumers as to how they should live and why their brand should be a central part of this kind of life. Advertisements shared a paternal voice that is particular to this era. By contemporary standards, these ads appear naive and didactic in their approach. This paternalism reveals that, at the time, consumer culture allowed companies to act as cultural authorities. Their advice was not only accepted but sought out. (Holt 2002: 80)

This modell – now being popularized by the TV series Mad Men – was inspired both by Freudian psychoanalysis and the scientific approach to advertising and persuasion at the time, provoked rising resistance in the 60s, with books like The Hidden Persuaders and other critical analysis appearing on bookshelves. With the increasing professionalization of the industry and knowledge about the branding paradigm more and more entering the public sphere, the public opinion was increasingly directed against the supposed manipulation of the individual.

Branding could no longer prescribe tastes in a way that was perceived as domineering. People had to be able to experience consumption as a volitional site of personal development, achievement, and self-creation. Increasingly, they could not tolerate the idea that they were to live in accord with a company-generated template. (Holt 2002: 82)

In reaction to the creative and anti-commercial countercultures of the 60s – and with that at the time when interpretative approaches started to challenge the predominant stimulus response thinking – a new branding paradigm emerged. Holt calls this paradigm „Postmodern Branding“. In a postmodern consumer culture, the role of branding would emerge from the supplier of a cultural blueprint – „How should I live?“ – to supposedly authentic, cultural ressources to be used for the identity projects of consumers who strive for independence from paternalistic and authoritarian corporations.

Postmodern consumer culture has adopted a particular notion of authenticity that has proved particularly challenging to marketers. To be authentic, brands must be disinterested; they must be perceived as invented and disseminated by parties without an instrumental economic agenda, by people who are intrinsically motivated by their inherent value. Postmodern consumers perceive modern branding efforts to be inauthentic because they ooze with the commercial intent of their sponsors. (Holt 2002: 84)

To produce these ressources in a distanced and commercially disinterested way, five branding techniques – also made public by Klein 1999 and Frank 1998) have emerged over time: (Holt 2002: 83ff)

  • Authentic Cultural Resources
  • Ironic, Reflexive Brand Persona
  • Coattailing on Cultural Epicenters
  • Life World Emplacement
  • Stealth Branding

All of these techniques however, are confronted with substantial contradictions. Ironic distance has been imitated without end and is now outdated, stealth marketing is getting more and more aggressive and reaching its limits, marketers are running out of counterculture content to tap for their campaigns as the authenticity market heats up, consumers are increasingly peeling away the brand veneer and „collectively, postmodern branding floods social life with evangelical calls to pursue personal sovereignty through brands“ (ibid.).

For Holt these phenomena (published in 2002 – before ’social media‘ even existed) pointed to an expiration of the postmodern branding paradigm. Whereas brands in the future would still have to offer authentic and relevant resources, authenticity won’t not be conveyed distance the brand from a profit motive, but through a role that Hold calls ‚citizen artist‘.

So brands will become another of expressive culture, no different in principle from films or television programs or rock bands (which, in turn, are increasingly treated and perceived as brands). […] Postmodern brands have little value in this new consumer culture. Because they rely so much on the cultural work of disinterested others and work so hard to deny that the brand itself stands for anything by itself (for fear of being tagged as cultural engineers), postmodern brands lack an original point of view that they can claim as their own. Rather than take a free ride on the backs of pop stars, indie films, and social viruses, brands will be valued to the extent that they deliver creatively, similar to other cultural products.

The citizen part on the other hand is concerned with the socially responsable behavior of corporations and their brands, basically answering the question of what is behind the brand veneer.

Holt

This topic and Holt’s only superficially covered hypotheses give rise to a lot of questions that might be covered in a master thesis. (Not all in one of course …)

  • What – to people – is authenticity in advertising and marketing communication? How is it operationalized? What are expectations?
  • How does authenticity translate in regards to aesthetics – from user-generated content to brands using a documentary style?
  • How does the use of digital, social networks (’social media‘) have affect the ‚corporate cool machine‘ as described by Holt in the postmodern branding paradigm. Is his hypothesis regarding brands being used in the role of citizen artists true? Or, more concrete: which range of uses of original, authentic and creative brand content can be shown? And in regards to the ‚citizen‘ part of the hypothesis: do people really look behind the brand veneer and if so, how?
Frank, T., 1998. The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism, University of Chicago Press.
Holt, D.B., 2002. Why do brands cause trouble? A dialectical theory of consumer culture and branding. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(1), S.70–90.
Klein, N., 1999. No Logo: no space, no choice, no jobs ; taking aim at the brand bullies, New York, NY: Picador.
Mad Men – AMC. Mad Men. Available at: http://www.amctv.com/originals/madmen/

China in a picture – a little help for Rob needed

Posted in media, culture and society,planning by thomas on the Oktober 30th, 2010

So far Rob helped me out with all the however-annoying questions an aspiring junior can possibly ask. Now he’s looking for visual representations of China and is asking for our help.

Post an image that best embodies China from your point of view. And mention whether you’ve been to China or not.

He is usually very generous with his thoughts so this should be interesting, plus, as Andrew said, planning type people need to stick together and help each other. Andrea and Andrew already did it and you can too.

A representation of China then: Well, for whatever reason my first thought was rice. Somehow I seem to store countries pretty close with food. I think it is rather normal to form pretty strong associations to the food in countries where you’ve lived for a while. You spend a lot of intimate time with food and – as pretty much every mainstream dish of every country is available in every metropolitan region – „true“ „national“ food somehow turns into the representation of the larger concept. And becomes essentially a no-go anywhere else. Vietnam is Bánh cuốn, B.C./Canada is Salmon/Sushi, Nicaragua is Gallo Pinto, etc.

I haven’t been to China and I know embarrassingly little about it so my shorthand was rice. They invented it.

Rice bowl

But then again, Rob wasn’t asking for my mental shortcut but for what I think best embodies China and there my best shot would be something like that:
Beijing's Olympic Stadium - the "Bird's nest - in July 2007

A nice one for all kinds of projections one might have.

Freunde des runden Leders, Afrikas und der gepflegten Vinyl-Behandlung vereinigt euch!

Posted in media, culture and society,Off Topic by thomas on the Oktober 20th, 2010

Wie du vielleicht weißt – oder auch noch nicht – bin ich bei einer Gruppe von 9 Personen (aus London und New York) die für eine Organisation namens “The Great Football Giveaway” Spenden sammelt. Wir fliegen im November nach Tansania um dort Fußbälle an Kinder in den entlegensten und ärmsten Teilen des Landes zu verteilen.

Es ist ganz einfach: Wir glauben, dass keinem Kind auf dieser Welt die Freude verwehrt bleiben sollte, (Fuß)Ball zu spielen. Es ist eines der einfachsten und spontansten Vergnügen die man haben kann. Auch ganz ohne Stadion, Fans und Millionenverträge. Oder wie Paul Clarke, der Gründer von “The Great Football Giveaway” sagt: „No kid should be denied the chance to kick a ball about. It’s one of life’s most simple pleasures.“

The Great Football Giveaway, das ist eine kleine NGO aus England, die es sich zum Ziel gesetzt hat so viele Fußbälle wie möglich in die Hände oder besser an die Füße von Kindern in armen, vom Tourismus unberührte und zum Teil von Krieg verwüstete Landstriche Afrikas zu bringen. Gemeinsam mit NGOs vor Ort hat das Projekt bisher 15,000 Bälle direkt an Schulen, Waisenhäuser und Kinder in Malawi, Angola, Uganda, Zambia, Ruanda und den Kongo gebracht. Die Teams sind dabei immer selbst organisiert. Ich habe mich über Blogs und Twitter mit acht anderen aus New York und London zusammengefunden. Gemeinsam sind wir nun ein Team bilden das von 4. bis 14. November nach Tansania fliegt.

Jeder Fußball mit Pumpe den wir an die Kinder in Tansania geben, kostet £10, also 12€. Unser nicht ganz bescheidenes Ziel ist 1350 Bälle in der Region zu verteilen, also £13.500 zu sammeln. Knapp £5.300 sind schon geschafft, mit der Party will ich dazu beitragen die £13.500 zu erreichen (Flug, Unterkunft, etc. zahlen wir natürlich selbst).

Nun habe ich mir gedacht, es wäre am vernünftigsten eine Fundraising-Party für mehrere Communities zu machen. Es geht um Fußball. Es geht um Afrika. Und es geht um Freude – also Feiern. Darum sieht das Programm so aus:

Am Montag, den 25.10. im Ragnarhof, ab 20:00.

20:30 – 21:30: Doku “The Great Football Giveaway”. 15,000 Balls, 5 Countries, An Epic Journey. This is football stripped of its money, marketing and celebrity.

„An inspiring film about football, kids & Africa. Brilliant!“ (Fußball-Legende Kenny Dalgish)

ca. 21:30 – 22:00: Kurzfilm „Girl Dreams“ (Antje Grothe, D 2010)

Die Mädchen aus dem Mathare Slum in Nairobi/Kenia trainieren auf einem staubigen Bolzplatz. Sie träumen davon, entdeckt zu werden. Die Chance ist gering, dennoch ist es oftmals ihre einzige Möglichkeit ihre Lebenssituation und die ihrer Familien zu verbessern.

Danach – The Great DJ Giveaway: Feinster Hip Hop / Funk / Soul / Breaks / Beats dargebracht vom DJ-Kollektiv „Frisch Saftig Stylish„.

Da das Ganze zum Spendensammeln gut ist, gibt es einen Eintritt/Spende von 4 € (oder gerne auch mehr, denn: je mehr Geld wir sammeln, desto mehr Bälle gehen nach Tansania). Falls du das Projekt gut findest und nicht kommen kannst, freuen wir uns auch hier sehr über deine Spende.

Hier geht’s zum Event auf Facebook. Also hinkommen und Leute einladen!

The Trouble with “Cultural Mapping”

Posted in Brands and Business,communications,media, culture and society by thomas on the Oktober 9th, 2010

I recently read an article at contagious (hat tip to Sebastian Garn for sharing) about Amsterdam Worldwide claiming to create better global campaigns because they are using a scientific method of analyzing cultures – which they call Cultural Mapping. That tool they cite is Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, which basically says people – or cultures – are different in the dimensions Power Distance; Individualism; Masculinity and Uncertainty Avoidance.

While I certainly agree that being culturally relevant is important, if not the most important aspect of brand management and communication, I do find a bunch of things interesting in that story.

First of all, it’s not like Amsterdam Worldwide has uncovered an academic secret. This is one of the most cited theories ever. According to Google Scholar he’s been cited 8810 times and from what I’ve been told at the university, even ahead of guys such as Jesus or Karl Marx. I think I heard it alone 5 to 10 times in my bachelor. Of course, it’s not like they are saying they use this model exclusively, but I still find it strange that an agency runs an article about something everybody who ever did an intercultural training has heard of before.

Then of course, using this model – just as any other model – doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s a model to not forget cultural dimensions but I think it’s not that good of an idea to base roundhouse-kick-like generalizations upon it or to expect ground-breaking “insights” from using it. I just think that focusing on a smaller group of people and finding out something interesting about them is more important than matching communication with a top-level insight about what is modeled as mainstream culture. (I always try to keep in mind that there might be bigger differences between Austrian IT-ers and “blue collar” workers than between IT-ers from Austria and Slovakia. And let’s not forget gender issues, age and other stuff.)

Last but not least, the research Hofstede has build his theory upon has been heavily criticized. It’s pretty old and it was done only with IBM employees at the beginning – IT people not exactly being the most representative sample group. Also, for example for Austria it concluded that we have among the lowest power distance score worldwide, meaning

“[…] people expect and accept power relations that are more consultative or democratic. People relate to one another more as equals regardless of formal positions. Subordinates are more comfortable with and demand the right to contribute to and critique the decisions of those in power”.

Power Distance

Now the intersting thing is that this is totally against what Austrian common sense would tell you and what researchers at my university found out, and it can only be interpreted and understood if you spend some time thinking about Austrian history and culture. What this dimension doesn’t tell you is that “Austrians” do like to complain about their bosses, don’t respect them too much and do think that their politicians, doctors, intellectuals and whoever else aren’t any smarter or deserving than “we” are. This, however, is only true if said people aren’t in the room. Once they are present the generalized “we” very much focuses on academic titles and job titles, hierarchies and power. So “Austrias” have a pretty much schizophrenic relationship with authority which my prof reasoned is because of some 1000 years of monarchy and bureaucratic state. “Cultural Mapping” won’t tell you this. And neither will it tell you how second-generation immigrants have appropriated this into their lives.

I like theories and models, I just think one has to be careful using them.

How far away is ‚The Future of the Book‘?

Posted in digital,experience,media, culture and society by thomas on the September 22nd, 2010

So everybody shared it by now anyways. Nicely done as you’d expect from IDEO. I think the first one is the hardest in terms of data analysis and evaluation. The second one could be built rather quickly and the third one is basically what Marcus Brown has been doing for a while now, but with budget, a design company and an iPad at his hand.

From the category “Things that Austria/Europe should be ashamed of”: ‚Red Cards‘ for Asylum Seekers

Posted in media, culture and society by thomas on the September 8th, 2010

Red Card

All of you probably know and remember the „Jew Star“, that Jews in National Socialist Germany had to wear for identification. Well, while of course not a measure as drastic as the this – what happend back then shouldn’t be compared lightly and therefore played down – a new action taken by the Austrian Social Democrats and the Conservatives bears some resemblance in spirit with these dark times.

Asylum seekers – transformed into a synonym for reckless criminals by Austria’s biggest newspaper – now have to stay in the refugee camp for five days and are not allowed to do such basic things as to go to a supermarket. (They have, of course, never been allowed to work, to ‚protect‚ the labour market and keep it in the hands of party-dominated chambers and unions. Fear of Eastern and Turkish invasion is still looming in Austria, even though the Turks aren’t even close to being the biggest minority here.) Now as one mayer of a town with one of the two refugee camps, with the daunting number of 80 inmates – can you imagine the hordes? – says, they are „not locked in [to the camp], because they can move freely in the area“. How nice, no cells for now.

Most cynical though is the fact that they can actually leave the camp, but they will be identifiable with a red card so the police can immediately arrest them. This is, by the way, the actual reasoning used to justify this policy. When caught, they are threatened with administrative punishment and detention prior to deportation. All of this was summed up in the newly created German word „Mitwirkungspflicht“ (obligation to collaborate).  Sounds nicer than „Internierung“ (internment), doesn’t it?

So there it is, the breaking of another taboo in terms of treatment of refugees, another law tightening the grip over people who were not born – and who „we“ don’t want – here, another policy mixing the vague and perfectly exploitable concept of „subjective feeling of safety“ with immigration and refugee law. Heck, we didn’t even need the right-wing party to do this, the Social Democrats and Conservatives are willfully doing their job.

In light of Roma deportations, drownings in the Mediterranean and deaths at the borders of the Spanish enclaves in North Africa, this is just another sign of what we can expect from an entity devoid of any restriction, one that regards constitutions as as worthless as the piece of paper it was written on (because „fuck it, we are the ones who write it …“).

[T]he modern state is a compulsory association which organizes domination. It has been successful in seeking to monopolize the legitimate use of physical force as a means of domination within a territory. To this end the state has combined the material means of organization in the hands of its leaders, and it has expropriated all autonomous functionaries of estates who formerly controlled these means in their own right. The state has taken their positions and now stands in the top place.

Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation (Politik als Beruf, 1919)

So let’s just all worry some more about Google Streetview, ok?

(If you are into German you can read more about the new red cards here, here and here.)

Every effort to change the world starts with people asking questions

Posted in communications,media, culture and society,planning by thomas on the September 7th, 2010

So I’ve been to the Ars Electronica in Linz today, to get exposed to some new thoughts, experiments and visions about what is going on in this world today and I must say I came away pretty impressed. Not only because the venue is spectacular in its own right or because I met Lauren, but because I think there were some projects that were seriously inspiring.

(Now I have to admit – and I somehow can’t help it – that when I say that about art it is in a way „instrumental“. With that I don’t mean a pure sense of functionality, but rather the fact that I can feel some sort of „purpose“ in how it relates to my life or issues that I think are relevant. So this doesn’t mean the other stuff is shite, obviously, I’m just officially not well-versed in arts, probably have a biased approach to it anyways and wanted to state this as an intro here.)

That said, one project that I found particularly interesting is „Dropping Knowledge“ or the documentary that developed out of it: „PROBLEMA – sometimes the worst enemy is our own perception“.

112 persons from 56 countries convened at the Table of Free Voices in Berlin in 2006 to provide answers to global questions about such things as the economy, ethics, war and nation-states. Now, director Ralf Schmerberg (DE) has made a film out of the resulting 11,200 statements interwoven with footage of some of the defining images of our time. The result is major intellectual marathon.

There are different reasons why I find this very interesting. The first one is obviously the content. Don’t have to discuss this I guess. Another reason is scale. It’s a massive marathon of perspectives, intellectual data points from all kinds of different people from all over the world, answering questions about all kinds of things. This is fascinating and mind-bending on its own.

What really does it for me though is the use of questions. I once had a professor who at the end of a session about cognitive media effects asked students a simple question: if they knew some tool or event or person – I’m not quite sure what it was. Then he counted raised hands. At the beginning of the next session he asked again who knew the the person/tool/event. Percentage raised. „Damage“ done. (This is of course simplifying matters as it isn’t persuasion in the strictest sense but only this thing called awareness (recognition, to be strict), but it shows how questions, as a special form of message, can lead to action and investigation into a matter without telling anybody to do anything.)

Now I’m obviously not an expert in socratic philosophy but I’m fascinated by the sheer power questions bring with them (plus I have to be because I need this as an excuse to get on people’s nerves constantly …). They frame issues in a certain way, shifting the perspective and focus. They have a higher chance of „change“ or „persuasion“ if you wish by the simple fact that we can hardly not think about an answer to it.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going here but it seems to be something as banal as: Well-framed open questions can lead to thinking and discussion which can lead to insight on the side of the one who answers. And an insight one gets on his or her own, instead of having it told from somebody else, is something one doesn’t let go of easily.

Every effort to change the world starts with people asking questions. I like that.

From the category „Things that Austria should be ashamed of“: Its reaction to „Turkish“ milk

Posted in Brands and Business,media, culture and society by thomas on the August 26th, 2010

Foto: APA/Herbert Pfarrhofer

1803 comments to date at the website of Austria’s liberal daily „Der Standard“. Countless protest mails and calls at their headquarter and supposedly a call to boycott the brand in some parts of the internet that I’m not familiar with. And all because of what? Because NÖM – the milk brand from Lower Austria – decided to exclusively supply 300 Turkish supermarkets with bilingual milk packages. Every product in Austria has a multi- or at least bilingual packaging, but mention „Turkish“ once in affirmative way in Austria and you provoke a public outcry.