Approaches to ideas and a proposed metaphor

Posted in Brands and Business,communications,planning by thomas on the Juli 25th, 2011

Problems are Opportunities

When you look at the big discourses in this industry – social media, design thinking, innovation, culture, storytelling, ‚digital‘ – it is easy to see that there is a difference between how companies act and how proponents of certain perspectives want them to act. Not the ‚advertising is in crisis‘ talk itself is new. Quite the contrary, the advertising and marketing industry needs the supposed failure of old approaches for new ones to be able to sell. It’s a lot like another cultural industry: fashion.

But then again, we have have made some advances in our understanding of people, culture and organizations. We now better than before that it’s very hard to predict which ideas and behaviors will spread in culture. It is still very hard to predict behavior, even with behavioral economics, big data and neuroscience, to name a few. Yes, we learned a great deal more about how things spread – hat tip to Mr. Earls and Bentley, but we don’t necessarily always understand why people do it, except for copying randomly. We are still far away from marketers‘ wet dream – constructing memes on purpose that are a guaranteed hit.

As planners, this means we’re dealing with the certainty of uncertainty and we’re stuck with planning the un-plannable. But again, strictly speaking, this has always been the case. Communication was never the linear, mass-media bombardment, it is now portrayed as (Lazarsfeld et al.). What people did with media was always as important as what media did to people. We only know more about it now, we can see it unfolding live and we can analyse big data streams in real time. We really shouldn’t be surprised by people’s way of using media anymore. We shouldn’t be surprised by the unpredictability of success on a cultural level. But we still are, and marketing hasn’t adopted accordingly.

Push Button Hard 12-11-08

It’s not that there aren’t proposed solutions.

The very smart Neil Perkin for example has compiled a coherent body of thinking agile planning. He has shed some light on concepts such as agile budgeting, agile research and other ways of making companies more adaptive to change. You should read his very interesting deck here.
Made by Many are a very vocal agency in the agile camp and they have demonstrated their thinking and doing in a great presentation at Google FireStarters as well. Wieden + Kennedy have always said that they don’t have a formal planning process and that a lot of what they do is trial and error. Rob Campbell said they work with a chaos theory approach to culture, which – as a metaphor – is the closest you could get to reality anyways (culture is chaos). McKinsey, the strategy consultants, have written about this stuff in their quarterly extensively in 2002.

Likewise, Mark Earls has pushed thinking around collective behavior in marketing. A proposed solution there is to start a lot of fires to give many ideas the chance to picked up by culture. You’ve all read Herd, so no reasons to repeat anything here, but following this thought has huge implications for budgeting and (media) planning.

Building upon the same theme, Gareth Kay has put forward his thinking about small ideas. Small ideas, being released and adapted continuously together build your big idea (the brand).
Hurdles

But still, at least that’s what I get to hear talking with fellow planners and creatives, and what I get to experience inin my humble first steps in this industry, clients often don’t like lots of ideas. They’re perfectly happy with a few to select from, and one to go with. So what are the barriers that keep a more agile planning approach and a more thoughtful approach to getting ideas out there from being implemented on a larger scale? I’d suggest it’s two things.

The first one is marketing blaming controlling and finance for setting strict budgets. So there’s no room for deviation.

The second one might be the thought that a misguided experiment in communication can endanger a brand. This however, doesn’t get a lot of support by Ehrenberg’s research. Most of what advertising does is to keep people thinking about the brand (salience), and only a second level effect is building associations. Or, put differently, if a full-blown social media shitstorm isn’t guaranteed to damage your brand (and I have yet to see thoroughly researched examples of them doing this in FMCG), how can a ’not successful‘ brand experience / idea / experiment do that?

In the end, the barrier is the threat of less ROI or a marketing manager afraid of missing his quarterly goals. And who can blame them? Fear is a powerful inhibitor. Getting fired isn’t fun. So you go the safe way, and you’d rather have your TV commercial aired two or three times more than putting away some money for experiments. (You also select a big, decorated network agency, so just in case you can always say you chose ‚the best‘. I mean, hey, they won Effies and Lions … just like everybody else in this business).

Harbor Crane

When I thought about all of this, it came to my mind that the marketing department really isn’t the only one with goals that are hard to reach. There’s procurement, pressured to get better stuff for a cheaper price. There’s finance, battling the Euro debt crisis and the odd exotic currency. There’s controlling and accounting, trying to fulfill legal demands while making stakeholders happy. There’s R&D trying to have a pipeline of short- and long-term projects. They all have to deal with uncertainty and they all have to demonstrate some reliability, a working baseline, while trying to reach their increasingly unrealistic goals. Marketing has this romantic believes though, as Ehrenberg called it, of sustained growth, brand differentiation, persuasive advertising and knowledge management.

So maybe marketing and brand management should take a look at these industries and steal the concept of hedging. It’s not like risk management or portfolios are new to marketing management. The BCG matrix of poor dogs, cash cows, question marks and stars is taught at every business school and definitely in use to manage brands. Fund managers at their bank have most probably talked with them about a portfolio strategy.

Hedging is a very simple concept, which means, in the strictest sense:

an investment position intended to offset potential losses that may be incurred by a companion investment

. It’s there to ‚insure oneself against loss‘.

In finance it means that you construct a portfolio of investments that are related in a way that if one asset loses its value, another one gains value. In procurement you have options that assure you the delivery of a certain amount of e.g. coffee at a certain day for a certain price. So if the price rises, you have successfully hedged against that risk.

And what is done in communication and marketing most of the time? Overall, companies do have a portfolio of brands that they manage. But within a single brand, it’s often ‚micro-hedging‘: ‚limiting‘ risks within ideas, campaigns and concepts. Making a logo bigger, making a story or joke less complex, cutting away a few seconds there and showing the product a few seconds longer are essentially risk-reducing strategies at work at the one thing you afford to put out there. From what we think about how communication and culture works however, this isn’t really a very thought-through hedging strategy. The proper strategy would be to have different horses in the race, one picking up if another one lames.

Of course, it’s not like marketing departments only have ATL campaigns to manage, they have to manage everything from promotion to the odd sponsoring. And sure, these ideas have to be coherent. Ideas that have to be owned, developed, pitched and financed. Of course, the Brand Innovation Manifesto talks about a collection of coherent ideas, but it doesn’t talk so much about the function of these to actually spread risk.

The closest to this idea in other industries is probably the brilliant Grant McCracken who talks about brands as a complex adaptive system in Flock and Flow, and the need to have ideas ready for different points in the chaos – rigidity continuum. He explicitly covers this problem, when different people in the brand management team want to cover different parts of a cultural context with a campaign, say a mainstream vs. a more alternative/raw approach.

Some parties on the team want to draw on the A state [chaos state, niche, …], while others want to draw on C [established mainstream]. Too often, one objective interferes with the other. The flock and flow approach to branding says, in effect, „You’re both right. Have a play ready for each of the states on the [chaos-rigididy] continuum. Treat each of them as separate strategies. Take a coverage approach.“

So while brand management thinks it mitigates risk with ‚micro‘ risk-management, it actually increases it, by publishing only one thing that most probably gets lost. Maybe brand management should consider portfolio planning for ideas, experiences and innovations and support the odd wild card. Maybe they should talk with the finance guys about hedging their bets.


Sources:
Paul Felix Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, Hazel Gaudet (1944): The people’s choice: how the voter makes up his mind in a presidential campaign.

Mark Earls (2003): Advertising to the herd: how understanding our true nature challenges the ways we think about advertising and market research.

Mark Earls, Alex Bentley (2008): Forget influentials, herd-like copying is how brands spread. Admap.

Andrew Ehrenberg (2002): Brand advertising as creative publicity. Journal of Advertising Research.

Andrew Ehrenberg (2002): Marketing: Are You Really a Realist? strategy+business.

John Grant (2006): Brand Innovation Manifesto: How to Build Brands, Redefine Markets and Defy Conventions.

Grant McCracken (2006): Flock and Flow: Predicting and Managing Change in a Dynamic Marketplace.

APSOTW – strategy, collected feedback and what to do with this

Posted in Brands and Business,communications,planning by thomas on the Juli 4th, 2011

A few weeks ago I participated in the APSOTW by Andrew (Northern) about cultural strategy, as outlined by Douglas Holt (who I’m a big fan of …). I had been following the APSOTW for quite a while at this point but I’ve never participated. There are many reasons for that, with the most important one being that as a non-native speaker I often found I didn’t have what it takes to ‚compete‘. This time however, I thought I had to do it. I’ve been studying Holt’s academic work for a while and I always found it is brilliant in its rejection of pure technological or functional innovation and its focus on social and cultural currents. So when it came to the razors and blades category and the KoS task, I had to do this. Not so much for the competition to be honest, but for the extensive feedback by many planners and strategists whom I respect a lot.

I think the judges who took their valuable time to do this for us aspiring planners deserve a big thank you. They probably won’t hear you clapping right now but still, it is great to have some ‚virtual‘ mentors like that in the industry.

The reason why I’m posting this is that I found it amazing how much different perspective and feedback can help you get to a better understanding of what you’re doing and what you’re supposed to do. It is also interesting to see certain points being mentioned repeatedly. Whereas, when you first read a point of criticism you tend to say ‚Well, yeah, they don’t get it, their problem‘, you kind of change your mind when you see the same point being raised again and again. Oh, and another reason is that I wanted to have all the feedback about it in one place.

Needless to say that with every day that passes I find other holes and leeps of logic in there, as well as things I could’ve done better or completely different. Anyways: here it is.

Andrew (Northern Planner):

I love that you’ve gone right into shave culture, not just brand culture. Your pace and style begin really well. Great tension I thought – the submissive man who does what he’s told, leaving most men just getting angry and a great opportunity to embrace a much wider identity and all the possibilities that brings. Really good.

But your strategy suffers from lace of the pace and brevity in your first bit! I was really with you, but then I get less sure about ‚good men‘ as a name for a target, it’s not great when you’re talking about men who embrace the best of where they’ve been and where they could go. ‚Good doesn’t encapsulate that for me!

But i LOVE the idea of the evolution of new generation, „One day we will all be like this‘ if feels like a grand vision, a shared goal.

I wish you had captured the essence of what that might be, but if feels like your solution is more about embracing the old than the new. I wanted to see more possibility.

Your manifesto was beautifully written but I don’t think you’ve captured what your thinking could have been, it begins to feel like inspiring progress‘ which is a great, relevant idea for a male audience, except for the fact Johnnie Walker have already done it!!

 

Rob Campbell:

general feedback:

In most cases, I felt they were still focusing too much on trying to be different from the category rather than coming up with something that infiltrated, changed or created culture – which highlights a need for the industry as a whole to step away from focusing all their energies on celebrating what’s new and cool and get back to highlighting the values of some of the fundamentals.

Again, that sounds harsh – especially as I know a lot of people who are doing planning at a senior level who wouldn’t have come up with something as good as some of these guys – however I guess I was just disappointed overall because nothing really grabbed me by the balls and screamed „THIS IS IT“.

Gareth once said [or it might of been – god forbid – Andy] that the key is to find „unexpected relevance“ and sadly I didn’t find any.

A cultural tension point is like a crossroads, where there is a mass of energy all congregated, waiting for one of the other doors to be opened and let liberation or – at the least – validation to be released. I didn’t feel the tension point the submissions highlighted really got under the skin of the audience, they were either more a CATEGORY tension point or amplifying what the media has been promoting in terms of gender attitudes and issues.

specific feedback:

I absolutely love „The Gillette-shaved man isn’t exactly a realistic, interesting or multilayered guy. And once he does ‚interesting‘ things, he gets axed.“ Fantastic summation that made me smile and nod at the same time. Took long enough to get to that point, but like a great joke, the punchline delivered.

Please don’t use terms like ‚he-cession‘, especially when the word you are raping doesn’t really reflect the point you’re trying to make.

My problem with this submission is it feels like the Chivas Regal campaign – Be Chivalrous.

I know it’s not, I know what Thomas is saying is different, but I can’t help but feel this is more like the evolution of Gillette man than something that captures the spirit of the times.

I agree that the rebellious angle wouldn’t work long term [ala Right Wing voting tools] but the direction being presented doesn’t make my gut feel it’s something that reflects a genuine cultural tension point – something that would touch people in the same way that listening to Al Pacino’s ‚Any Given Sunday‘ speech or watching Wieden’s ‚Chrysler Superbowl‘ spot made them feel – even if they were about as far away from the ‚core target audience‘ as you could get.

Thorough background, nicely paced – but sadly, once it got to the strategy, I felt it lost direction, energy and interest. Sorry Thomas.

 

David Mortimer:

Some interesting thoughts in there.

Did a nice job of building a picture of the sort of man who would reject Gillette, but I wasn’t as sure how King of Shaves were going to capture these people’s imagination. Perhaps he should have gone back to Connery and co and shown what they would have said about KOS.

The just enough is more part also seemed to come out of nowhere a bit for me. I wasn’t quite sure how this fitted with the rest of the story.

 

Jason Oke:

Your submission felt understated and simple, which I liked. But probably too understated: I think you could have done a better job really calling out the key ideas to help the audience along, and having a stronger point of view. Sometimes you presented a lot of information and I wasn’t sure what the key take away was supposed to be. And sometimes there were really brilliant thoughts buried in the middle of a paragraph.

You did a really good, thorough job with the category myths and orthodoxy. Nice use of various sources, quotes, pictures and videos to make it really multi-dimensional. And some great insights – like when the Gillette guys gets interesting and deviates from ‘perfect,’ he gets axed; or the link between category norms and male submission. But again these were a bit buried – could have called them out and explored them a bit more.

The cultural shift you identify around gender equality and how men are reacting is good. The ideology and source material was OK but felt a bit superficial – ‘the good things men did in the past are still valid’ is true but you could go deeper. You have some really meaty stuff buried in there which would have been great to explore more, like Susan Faludi’s point about masculinity being derived from utility in society, and not being something ornamental to display. And Tom Ford talking about contributing to the world. You could do a lot with that. What position could the brand take around that thought? A brand standing for guys who contribute to society, or who get their hands dirty, would be an interesting cultural strategy.

Similarly, the idea of “just enough is more” is a really interesting thought, would have liked to hear a bit more about where that could go.

I think you had some OK ideas for tactics. Celebrating “interesting” men is a good starting point, but a bit obvious and I think you could have gone further with it. I like the idea of a shaving brand celebrating guys with facial hair overtly, that would definitely be a departure for the category.

Calling out the industry for over-doing the technology has a lot of cultural potential, stuff like “there is no good reason for Gillette Fusion” and getting dermatologists questioning the utility of 5 blades would be great. I wasn’t sure if these were just observations though, or something you were actually suggesting – but I think it would be a great tactic to go out and pick that fight.

Overall some really good stuff, but I think you needed a bit more clarity on your thoughts, and the courage of your convictions to really take a stand and have a cultural point of view that would create impact.

 

John Dodds:

Good analysis of the status quo and a history of Gillette’s advertising and „is this really the best a man can get?“ is a very good question to ask. But I think you need more proof of your subsequent assertions about submission and insecurity and how that relates to shaving.

What is the cultural disruption you’re highlighting? It seems to be a redefinition of nebulous things like manliness and masculinity combined with a rejection of the technological claims. I may be wrong but you’ve not made it clear enough for me. Why do men want to be good men? Why do they want a new definition and what makes KOS the smart choice for them?

For me, you’ve created an alluring alternative but not explained why it’s alluring and to whom?

The tactics that follow are generally consistent though I wonder if the idea of a modern „gentleman“ and barber shops suggest higher costs in contradiction with your complaints about Gilltete’s prices? And I still don’t get why so many of the entries featured beards – surely the anti-christ of shaving?

Finally, the manifesto lays out the position well – I just need you to anchor it explicitly to a cultural disruption

 

Gemma:

There are some nice observations about Modern Man and Modern Masculinity here and a nicely linked solution celebrating the modern gentleman (with part of being a gentleman linked to having a decent shave).

There are gems too in the manifesto, but they’re buried a bit. Perhaps a shorter, punchier manifesto might have got the point across more effectively?

Andrea Nastase:

It feels on the same line as the previous one but more stripped down. There’s not as much detail but the writing is good and gets to the point quickly.
I think this is my overall favourite
„good things men did in the past are still valid and relevant today and will be tomorrow” – good
“just enough is more” – good
“there are no shortcuts to being a good man” –good
Letting men have a beard – embrace the culture because it’ll have to go at some point;

Now what did I do with this? First of all, I asked for some more feedback and clarification to make sure I really got the point of the feedback. Then I took all the good and bad things (the bold stuff) out and lined it up in a document (sorted by analysis, tension point, strategy) versus my deck and made myself go through it a couple of times.

First of all, a general point seems to be that I could have written more focused, to the point and make some key observations stand out more prominently. As Jason wrote, I could have been more braver and more confident with certain ideas. That’s a core issue I think, because while I’m usually very confident with analysis and the picture of the world I draw, I lack this confidence when it comes to strategy and boiling stuff down to one conclusion (the old selection problem).

Then, there seems to be some agreement that the observation and analysis at the beginning is – in general – ok, and that I’ve hit something there. However, when it comes to what it is that I hit, there seems to be some slight disagreement already, with everyone taking out different bits and pieces as relevant, or irrelevant. This alone is very, very interesting and it’s something you can probably control better when you give a proper presentation, but even then never for 100%.

When it comes to strategy, the trouble begins. While some see an ok flow through the different points of the strategy (Gemma, Andrea – the ladies?), the general conclusion is that I haven’t linked the strategy properly and that the strategy / ideology / manifesto – the solution – isn’t clear and convincing, when compared to the background that I identified. As Rob said, I haven’t hit a real tension point with it, or at least I haven’t expressed it in this way. They still found some ’nuggets‘ in there but people seemed to wonder how it would all fit together and what the one strong idea in it is – because the ‚good‘ men (or the ‚post‘-modern gentlemen) apparently isn’t it.

To some it up, the category orthodoxy seems to be very good, the cultural shift in general is ok, the strong tension is missing and when it goes to strategy I lose it the pace, clarity and brevity of the first part.

Of course, I also took out what they found to be good or even very relevant parts and looked at them again. I asked myself, what was it that I suggested and found out that I really settled for the first (and pretty obvious) solution, but while mixing it with a couple of other thoughts that I thought were relevant, but that I couldn’t express in a proper way. This is true both for the shift and for the solution.

In effect, I identified two shifts. One is about the rejection of modernities‘ promises. It’s speed, pressure, globalization and technology that lead to a lot of everyday madness and that keep a lot of men from doing stuff they might actually like to do. All the stuff that led among other things to the outdoor boom, the search for authenticity, micro-brewery advertising and ‚real‘ stuff and purpose in life. This is where the thought of ’submission‘ comes from, because the category celebrates a picture of men that a lot of men actually despise. As Andrea and other APSOTW strategies pointed out and I failed to: most men don’t actually want to shave, they hate it. They just have to do it because it is often a requirement of the business world and they somehow think women want them to be clean- or full-body-shaved (which I doubt, having a beard myself 😉 ).

The other shift is about the rejection of the strict image of a male, masculine, manly identity itself and the media portrayal of men a stupid and useless guys. Identity isn’t the one monolithic thing anymore that you have to stick too all the time. Men today experiment with all kinds of things, from – well – beards to sex toys to cooking to fashion to other things. This is where the thought of the journey, the experimentation, experience, interestingness and the ‚good men‘ probably came from. This isn’t about a role to play and fit in, but a life to live and fill with purpose. And it subsequently led to the idea of the dawn of a new generation that was somehow buried in there and that I almost forgot if it wasn’t for Andrew remembering it (the magazines on slide 28 etc.).

All of this culminated in a thought of ‚just enough‘. This isn’t about an overly expressed masculinity, but about celebrating men with an authentic purpose in their life who want a fucking break from all of this ‚role playing madness‘, from the ‚progress‘ that hasn’t helped anybody (real wages etc.). Men who want to be ‚good‘ (and have no idea what that means anymore), find a partner, live and appreciate a decent and real life. Enough – I thought – was true for so many things in their life – not more technology, not more media bashing, not more blades, not more … And ‚Just Enough‘ I thought was a good way of framing the desirable stuff (experience, progression, change, traditional things that are regarded good and part of male identity, interestingness, technology, blades) in a good way. To solve this tension between dreams of ‚Damn, I’d love to do and be like this!‘ – which can be expressed in a million (and e.g. not always heterosexual) ways – and the ‚But society wants me to be like that‘, which puts many men under pressure. Does that make sense? I don’t know. In the submission I haven’t framed and expressed it in a way that would people go ‚Fuck me, that’s it!‘ – I still haven’t, I guess.

So where does it all go from now?

Andrew didn’t announce a winner and as I said, I was in this more for the feedback than the potential prize. The next task – the tiebreaker round – is to distill a creative brief out of the work, with the feedback in mind. A brief that has creatives running to fill their moleskins with awe-inspiring stuff. As I have to devote most of the time this week for university and ‚real work‘ I’m not sure if I’ll be actually able to do this the proper way, but I’ve already learned loads and I can only recommend everybody to take part in the next round, should there be one.

The book @MarcusJHBrown told me to buy.

Posted in media, culture and society,planning by thomas on the Juli 1st, 2011

Selection

Posted in Brands and Business,media, culture and society,planning by thomas on the Juni 27th, 2011

So right now I’m sitting at the airport in Vienna, waiting for my delayed flight to Hamburg. What I’m going to do there? Listen to smart people talking about selection in all kinds of different areas. From ideas, to news, to beauty, to nature, innovation, recruiting, investment, sports and taste.

First of all, I think APG Germany came up with a brilliant selection of speakers and industries, and I particularly like that they haven’t invited loads of people from the advertising industry – except of course Russell Davies, but then again he’s got this history of not talking about advertising but rather about ‚interesting‘ stuff. (Nice that this is most of the time a contradiction, isn’t it?).

But second of all, I think the topic itself is highly interesting. Recently, there is a lot of talk in adland about design thinking (see Neil Perkin’s brilliant FireStarter events with Google) and the divergent thinking process within individuals and systems – something I covered also in my bachelor thesis and I think is really important (but not really new). But then again, I don’t think that agencies or organisations of all sorts have that much trouble coming up with ideas per se. What they often do have trouble with, however, is to come up with relevant ideas. They also don’t seem to lack data. What they sometimes lack, though, seems to be relevant data. Often times in my little time in the industry, I’ve seen organisations overwhelmed with loads of information and struggling to filter it to generate knowledge and wisdom out of all the data they are generating.

These times of complexity, chaos and speed necessarily make selection and reflexivity both about the ways of working and the environment critical, and there are obviously different ways to go about that. The discussions about weak signals monitoring, a big board and Chief Culture Officer as sketched by Grant McCracken, pattern based strategy, real time data analysis, experiments data based prediction (see Google FireStarters #1, Google Correlate, Google Prediction API) show how important this whole issue of sense-making has become. In this process of making sense about the environment, both divergent thinking – coming up with possible realities, hypothesis and relevant options – and convergent thinking – selection of the most appropriate, but still contingent options, are important.

To be honest, I’m still struggling a tiny bit (= a lot) with the selection bit. More often than not, I find myself with various options that I think are worthwhile and possibly effective, both in the part about inspiring with context and in selecting solutions. Let’s see if these guys can help me:

Selection of Ideas:
Russell Davies, Ogilvy & Mather

Selection of News:
Thomas Osterkorn, Chefredakteur des stern

Selection of Beauty:
Armin Morbach, Herausgeber TUSH-Magazin

Selection of Nature:
Dr. Björn Brembs, Neurobiologe FU Berlin

Selection of Innovation:
Ulf Pillkahn, Siemens AG

Selection of Talent:
Prof. Dr. Björn Bloching, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants

Selection of Investments:
Lars Stein, Gründer & Präsident von Studienaktie.org

Selection of Football Talents:
Ernst Tanner, Sportlicher Leiter TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

Selection of Taste:
Sylvia Kopp, Biersommelière – mit Verkostung –

Documentaries and the ‚Real‘

Posted in media, culture and society,planning by thomas on the Juni 21st, 2011

My last post was already somehow related to documentaries – Bananas* in this case. For some reasons, I’m thinking a lot about documentaries at the moment (this also has personal reasons but they don’t matter for what I’m thinking about). I came to find documentaries interesting for a lot of different reasons.

First of all, they may not all want to be overtly persuasive or activistic, but they sure want to present ‚reality‘ and so they have to persuade you of a certain perspective, a certain framing of an issue. For the time you’re watching a documentary and ideally after that, you’re supposed to accept a certain type of portrayal of the world as real. Which essentially is also what advertising is trying to do, although on a mostly more dull level, with a tiny bit less involvement of everybody involved. (Yes, that’s kind of what I wanted to say.)

Another thing I find interesting about documentaries is that that lots of them have a purpose. Sure, there are loads of artistic documentaries or animal or nature documentaries, but from what I’m now being exposed to, there are loads and loads of activist docs out there. These are films that are supposed to document stuff, but they often have an underlying message, a POV, a call to arms or something similar. Bananas* is an example for such a documentary. It might now want to tell you straight in your face, but after watching it you’re supposed to feel like an arse when you buy Dole Bananas. Same is true for Pipe and Shell. For most food documentaries. And for many more. I think this is interesting from the culture creation POV.

And when you think about it, most feature length docs are produced with production budgets that aren’t that far away from your 45 second TV commercial. 90 minutes of passionate framing of an issue for the price of a TV commercial? Hmm …

Then of course there’s the aesthetic view on docs. I think most of them are really, really beautiful. They have this authentic look and feel while looking absolutely great. Schwarzkopf for example looks totally sharp.

Goodnight Nobody is poetic and beautiful.

Oh, and documentaries have this knock for delivering a triangulation of perspectives. They often cover an issue from an individual view, giving insights into the subjective meaning of whatever issue, but then they also show social interactions around the topic (usually there’s some sort of social object around) as well as presenting an analysis or opinion on it’s cultural implications. And even if they don’t do it, they provide you with lots of cues and inspiration.

That said, I still have to go and watch Abendland:

(Would anybody in the plannersphere join me for SXSW film instead of interactive?)

Why Coming Up With A Concept Isn’t The Problem

Posted in Brands and Business,communications,experience,planning by thomas on the Mai 23rd, 2011


When I started with all this stuff (comms, marketing, design, …), I designed and built websites, flyers and other things – amateurish in hindsight, but I learned a lot doing it. Then after school, I went into a more abstract role in an online marketing agency – somewhere in the middle of planning, account management and creative. After that, I thought I should work at a classic agency and did an internship in planning. And now, I’m working in a supposedly even more ‚detached‘ role at a brand and innovation consultancy. (No, I’m not working full-time yet, I’m finishing my degree). In a way, I sort of covered the whole spectrum from execution to strategy, from concrete to more abstract thinking and doing. Common sense would say I worked my way ‚up‘. I’d say this is utterly, utterly wrong.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past years, it is that the magic isn’t in concepts or PowerPoints or Keynotes. It is very easy to come up with some stuff and post-rationalise it, to make it look fancy or even convincing. You can learn pretty fast how easy it is to bullshit your way to the dark side of planning. With slideshare and twitter soundbites, and a lot of marketing people potentially (and often rightfully) not knowing what you’re talking about, I assume you can go far this way. („Some people are so good at learning the tricks of the trade that they never get to learn the trade.“ – Sam Levenson)

But from what I learned so far, the magic often isn’t in an idea or a concept itself. Advertising ideas or concept headlines these days often come cheap. Just look at what all the croudsourcing platforms out there do, or the theory of random creativity or Grant McCracken’s Culturematic. Coming up with a concept isn’t that big of a deal if you come up with many of them in the first place. (Coming up with a unique one is harder, but even that would be more a matter of quantity …)

So if the magic isn’t in the idea, where does it lie? I really believe it is in what happened before a concept and what happens with it afterwards.  What happens before is the strategic thinking that reframes the situation, identify an opportunity or a problem and construct the context in an interesting and inspiring way. Classic and still invaluable strategy stuff. This is answering the question of what it is the new thing we’re supposed to come up should lead to?

Then, and usually built on a concept, happens the execution and this is where all the process and thinking and phrasing before suddenly hits reality. But it’s not the plot-line, or the concept headline that is pushed out there in the real world – it’s deeper and more complex than that. Just look at Hollywood’s black list as an example.

“Centers on Edwin A. Salt, a CIA officer who is fingered as a Russian  sleeper spy. He eludes capture by superiors who are convinced he is out  to assassinate the president. While trying to reunite with his family,  he struggles to prove someone else is the traitor.”

“An illiterate kid looks to become a contestant on the Hindi version of  Who Wants to be A Millionaire in order to re-establish contact with the girl he loves, who is an ardent fan of the show.”

“After a zombie plague ravages America, a pair of ‘odd couple’  survivors team up to find purpose and combat the living dead in the post-apocalyptic Southwest.”

They all don’t sound overly exciting, or do they? Sure, those are summaries of plot lines, nicely written and to a certain extent triggering your imagination – but then again, they’re only words. And they can be transformed into a very dull or a brilliant movie. They aren’t Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, they aren’t Angelina Jolie (guess there’s been some focus group testing there), they aren’t the OST, the art direction, the … well you get the picture: It needs imagination, craftsmanship and taste to make something exciting based on them. It needs the how.

Or to let Mr. Feldwick and Mr. Heath, who have been preaching and proofing that for a long time, speak:

Most advertising practitioners intuitively believe that advertising influences behaviour not simply through the conscious processing of verbal or factual messages, but by influencing emotions and mediating ‘relationships’ between the consumer and the brand. This leads to a benign conspiracy between client and agency in which creativity and communication are able to coexist (Heath 2004). To support this conspiracy, huge resources of corporate ingenuity are squandered in retrofitting successful campaigns to ‘information processing’ strategies. So we are led to believe that Heineken’s famous ‘Refreshes the parts …’ campaign worked mainly because it communicated the ‘benefit’ of refreshment, that the Guinness ‘Surfer’ ad is merely a dramatisation of the ‘benefit’ that Guinness takes a long time to pour, and that the Andrex ‘Puppy’ is no more than a branding device that improves recall that its toilet paper is ‘soft, strong, and very long’. It is a bit like saying that King Lear is a great play because it is about families. (Heath & Feldwick 2008)

However, while it’s the strategy ‚before‘, and the execution ‚after‘ a concept that make for great outcomes, I’d argue there often isn’t really a before and an after in the first place, which renders ’set in stone‘ concept themselves somewhat irrelevant. While surely the goal – the what – should be fixed at a certain point (if it’s agreed upon in the first place), I think in general one can’t separate concept from execution. There’s a nice deck about what this could mean for ‚digital‘ solutions by Stuart Eccles of Made By Many accompanying the talk he held at the Google FireStarters. And you should definitely read Martin Weigel’s post, which was finished before this post made it out of the drafts and is saying what I wanted to say way better anyways.

Sources:

The Black List 2007: http://blcklst.com/tbl/lists/2007_black_list.pdf

Heath, R. & Feldwick, P., 2008. Fifty years using the wrong model of advertising. International Journal of Market Research, 50(1), p.29.

The theory of random creativity is explained in:
Rossiter, J.R. & Bellman, S., 2005. Marketing communications: theory and applications, Prentice Hall.

About the ‚Science of Marketing‘

Posted in Brands and Business,communications,planning by thomas on the Januar 31st, 2011

At the moment a presentation and a video by Byron Sharp about the science of marketing are making rounds in the plannersphere. They are based on Sharp’s book „How Brands Grow. What marketers don’t know„. About this book Martin Weigel says:

If you want to buy one book this year to help you (or the marketer in your life) be a better a marketer, don’t buy all the data-devoid stuff that makes us feel cutting edge, or massages our egos. I suggest you read this one. It is full of proper data and analysis. And full of the stuff that as Sharp says, marketers should know, but many clearly don’t. Like double jeopardy, retention double jeopardy, the law of buyer moderation, natural monopoly law, etc.

It’s easily the most useful, challenging and illuminating book about marketing I’ve read in years.

I haven’t read the book yet, but after this enthusiastic review it is now lying on my desk. From what I can see, a lot of it is based on Andrew Ehrenberg’s work, which is not surprising, given that Sharp is at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute. For those of you who don’t know Ehrenberg, who passed away last summer: he was the sage of marketing science, looking for and finding consistent marketing laws, most notably the Double Jeopardy law. He also wrote some interesting papers about advertising effects and a quite interesting comment in Strategy+Business called Marketing: Are you Really a Realist (free registration).

As shown in his work Ehrenberg is a passionate advocate of using the methods of physics in social science:

Even in a field supposed to be dominated by people’s impulses to buy – that of marketing – there are striking regularities … [yet] people seldom expect there to be law-like regularities in social science (‚Is it a science?‘) and therefore do not even look for them. (Ehrenberg 1993)

Sharp is promoting the same school of thought and you should definitely have a look at his talk.

Undeniably, law-like patterns as the ones he mentions in his talk are interesting. I am a huge believer in Ehrenberg’s view of advertising as being not so much persuading than nudging and that salience (in combination with widespread availability) is what often explains big brands better than anything else. However, with the nature of generalizations comes – I think – an exaggerated trust in what ‚the data‘ tells us, which might lead to some laziness in interpretation, analysis and understanding. After all, what ‚the data‘ doesn’t tell can’t be there, right?

Now this might sound like the sulky response of a ’social constructivist‘ (or any other ‚anti-positivist‘), but have a look at how Sharp presents his argument about Harley Davidson. He’s spot on when he says that Harley and Apple are the two brands always being mentioned as examples for cult-like loyalty and other brand anomalies and he rightfully dismisses these myths. However, when it comes to the Harley consumer segmentations he goes on to laugh about the fact that only few of Harley consumers are actually like one would imagine Harley riders, while the rest of them lives a more ‚regular‘ life – you know, the one without violence and drug trafficking. He argues then, that we spend too much time pampering the loyals and not enough time growing the others. Now, without having read the book, in arguing like that I think he omits that the 90% might only drive a Harley because they’d love to feel like the tough guy once in a while. And while I do know that this isn’t exactly an insight or new thought, I think it is quite a good accomplishment to commercially ‚reach‘ 9 times the people that are actually into the meaning you promote, the one your brand is perceived to (theoretically) stand for. This is – in my humble opinion – something that empirical marketing science couldn’t explain, because it’s not and won’t ever be in the ‚data‘.

The more you rely on generalizations, the more general your insights and understanding becomes. To fit a situation into your law, you have to chip away parts of what you want to explain.

So now I’ve got to read that book.

Sources:

Ehrenberg, Andrew (1993): Even the social sciences have laws‘, Nature, vol. 365, p. 385.

Sharp, Byron (2010): How Brands Grow. What Marketers Don’t Know.

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.)

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.

A look at Nokia on the long road back to glory

Posted in Brands and Business,communications,planning by thomas on the September 24th, 2010

(This post contains a bunch of personal stuff, post-rationalization and opinions – typical planning bollocks -, just so you know. If you make it through the text there’ll be some nice videos though.)

First, some background. I always liked Nokia. When I was a teen, as far as I remember Nokia was a synonym for modern times and a cosmopolitan view of the world. They were not exactly on the cutting edge of everything but compared to the likes of Ericsson, Siemens and others, they were symbols of a connected global world. I got my first phone when I was 14, a blue Motorola that somehow looked like an egg, and then a pretty flashy panasonic that my dad wouldn’t use anymore. But my first real mobile was a Nokia 6210. It was the phone I used to text my girlfriend back then – first love and all. I think it was able to store a bunch-load of texts, which was obviously a plus, considering all the important teen texts that were not to be deleted.

There was no doubt that my next phone would also be a Nokia, though I’m not even exactly sure which one it was, with all the number combinations they used. I only remember that it was one of the first ones with a color screen – that unfortunately also didn’t last very long. Then however, I became unfaithful and jumped on board with Motorola when the 3G version of the Motorola Razr came out. It was the smallest 3G phone available, the RAZR was the coolest shit around and I gave in (contrary to what most people think of themselves, advertising works fine with me). Over in Vancouver I picked the cheapest phone available, which coincidently also was a Motorola with the same crappy software.

Then back home in Vienna, after quite a bit of pondering and looking at what Nokia had done in the meantime, I decided against the N95 and for the iPhone. It was a hard decision (not real-life hard, but in the realm of products), not because I had anything against Apps or the product, but because already back then I hated the way that a bunch of idiots who had no idea of what Apple used to stand for, of technology or of the creative industries, were wearing their white headphones like a badge of honor, proudly showcasing their iBooks/Macbooks, bashing Windows and Linux and in general pray at the altar of Jobs. Don’t get me wrong, I always loved their OS and hardware but already then “The Great Product Claim” and the way that Apple’s smug “brand behavior” rubbed off to a lot of their now mainstream customers got on my nerves big time. The “I’m a Mac” campaign, while obviously catchy, made Apple look like a bunch of arrogant idiots.

I still bought it because back then, there was no comparable product experience in terms of touchscreen and applications. It just wasn’t there. But I do have the feeling that Apple, while building their ecosystem-empire and growing bigger and bigger, were constantly withdrawing from their “brand equity”, from the symbolic resources that shaped their public perception. Sure, that’s not going to bother them in the short term, because they can still sell this one device in all kinds of different sizes, but their success came – no matter how often Amir Kassaei repeats it – never only from the design and simplicity of “the perfect product” (that it isn’t and that doesn’t exist), but also from the symbolic resources it provided. Symbolic resources that went into the common knowledge about Apple because a bunch of nerds and hipsters from the creative industries were Apple, loved the OS, had the G4s, made their flyers on it and used it to DJ once they became to lazy to mix with vinyl. Think different and all.

Now, not so much anymore.

And so, while Nokia’s software was and is apparently crap for the last years and couldn’t remotely keep up with Android and Apple, and while they also neglected the symbolic parts for ages – I haven’t experienced anything that would make me feel a Nokia brand in Canada and also nothing in Austria for a while – they at least seem to have woken up. If Apple is moving away from their old heritage and Android is working on becoming the new mobile Windows, Nokia is in the strange position of being the challenger brand, while still being market leader.

This means that they simultaneously have to work on fixing their OS/App-store issues, but also work the edges of culture and their developers, the ones that Apple doesn’t give too much of a damn about anymore. And they have to continuously throw out millions of phones to defend their market share in the meantime. They have a chance to build what Apple built on one device and what Android is trying to do with all the different bloated brand versions of their OS, on a base of hundreds of millions of users of one brand who will trade up for smart-phones at some point. Think about it: if all the others are joining Android, and Palm and Microsoft more or less take themselves out of the game, why would you not be the third big guy in the market. (BB will always be business niche.)

Judging from what has come out of Nokia since the Nokia World, it seems like they at least get the symbolic part right and they’re working with different communities and developers to get their vision out there into reality.

Typical W+K brilliance, this is just lovely and puts different communities of do-ers and makers in the spotlight. DIY is a rich territory right now and you can break out every single project for different length features.

Sounds a heck of a lot like a hungry challenger brand. And that is a good sign.