Heading To Tanzania

Update: If you want, you can donate now.


Every now and then in life an opportunity comes along and you just know you have to do something about it. An opportunity to put words and good intention into action. An opportunity to do the right thing.

Some of you might have already read Neil’s blog post about the project in Tanzania he decided to join as a team leader: The Great Football Giveaway.

The Great Football Giveaway 2010 from The Great Football Giveaway on Vimeo.

When I read and saw this, I was at the same time amazed and sceptic. The trained critical thinker inside me thought, “Well, this isn’t quite going to save the world, is it!?” It pondered how there are bigger problems, bigger things that need to change for Tanzania (and a lot of countries) to accumulate wealth and get out of poverty. “Sure there are things more important than bloody football, right?” Right. There are.

On the other hand however, I immediately and intuitively fell in love with the pure simplicity and goodness of the idea. I admire people that do things, people that actually make things happen. “The Great Football Giveway” and Neil’s inspiring jump in at the deep end would most certainly be one of those actions for good.

In the end, intuition won. I realized that I fell into the “macro trap”: “countries”, “wealth”, “poverty” – I won’t be able to change anything at this scale – you know, the world hunger crisis etc. – anytime soon, while these kids would love to kick a ball about right now. The great Football Giveaway isn’t about saving the world. It is about giving kids joy and happiness. About sharing some of what we have to make a basic pleasure happen in a very rural and poor part of Tanzania. This was about action on a “do-able” scale. And it needs doing.

So I am joining a group of people based out of London and New York, who I mostly don’t know personally, but who I am sure are all awesome, in The Great Football Giveaway from November 4 to 14. The flight to Dar es Salaam is booked, jabs are to be arranged and most importantly fundraising is about to begin in earnest very soon. (We do pay for flights, accomodation, food etc. ourselves and are responsable for raising the funds for the balls.)

So much for my background in this, from now on, this place is going to be about what counts: getting as many balls directly into kids’ hands as possible. Once the fundraising starts, please do consider spreading the word, donating a ball or let me know if you contribute anything else to the project.

Every effort to change the world starts with people asking questions

So was at 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.

“The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management” aka my Bachelor Paper and Planning Barcamp topic

This weekend, I am going to fly up to Hamburg to meet with a bunch of interesting people at the Planning Barcamp, a mini/un-conference around the overarching theme of “Context”. As Michaela asked us to come up with topics, I thought it might be a good idea to suggest the title of my bachelor paper that otherwise nobody else would probably read anyways. So, as a preview of what I am going to talk about on Friday (in a less academic and hopefully more interesting way), here’s the preliminary introduction to my “thesis”:

(Thanks to Christian Riedel, and Michaela for organizing and to the APGD and the Good School for supporting it.)

Creativity is an often used word in the context of marketing communications and brand management. There are magazines named after it, such as Creativity and Creativity Review, there are numerous awards around the globe judging and celebrating it and there is the APG Creative Planning award, which rewards creative strategy in the context of marketing communications and planning.

Creativity, of course is also the selling point of almost every agency or agency-like company trying to make a living in the widening domain of marketing services.

We put the creative function at the top of our priorities.

Creativity Is The Most Powerful Force In Business. […] DDB’s pursues collaborative relationships with clients and partners to find the hidden potential of people, brands and business through creativity.

[Wieden + Kennedy is] an independent, creatively-led communications agency.

We connect ideas and innovation to deliver award-winning results for the world’s leading brands.

We are creative problem-solvers.

We are a creative company with 186 offices and 7000 colleagues united around a single mission: To Resist the Unusual.

Our industry is undergoing radical transformation. To keep pace with the changes being driven by emerging technology, it is vital to focus on collaboration, creativity and organizational flexibility,

MDC Partners fosters the entrepreneurial spirit of our Partner firms by encouraging creativity and autonomy while providing human and financial resources to accelerate growth.

Both independent agencies as well as large established agency networks claim to be at the forefront of creativity. More precisely, as Zurstiege (cf. 2005: 179ff) puts it, what agencies aim to offer and what marketers ask for is effective creativity or creative effectiveness. Therefore, as the relationship between creativity and effectiveness is a regular topic of discussion between advertising agencies and clients, within agencies, the industry press and advertising conferences, there is a stream of research dealing with creativity in the context of advertising. Google Scholar, which searches for scientific literature such as journal articles, displays around 100.000 entries for “advertising AND creativity”. Among the discussed topics are the definition and perception of creativity (D. C West et al. 2008; El-Murad & Douglas C. West 2004; Scott Koslow et al. 2003; White & B. L. Smith 2001), the effect of creativity on advertising effectiveness (Ehrenberg et al. 2002; Arthur J. Kover et al. 1995; Dahlen et al. 2008; Till & Baack 2005), and contextual issues that influence advertising and agency creativity (S. Koslow et al. 2006).

However, while creativity is the focus of awards, agency positioning and industry debates, and while there is work in advertising research towards “a general theory of creativity in advertising” (R. E. Smith & Yang 2004) creativity is generally not dealt with in detail in a broader brand management context (Kotler & Bliemel 2006; Fuchs & Unger 2007; Schweiger & Schrattenecker 2009).

For this reason this paper sets out to critically evaluate the functions and premises of brand management and more specifically what roles “creativity” could play in the ever-more-complex environment companies and brands are embedded in.

This is done by first analyzing the concept of brands and brand management as found in a literature review. In addition, the changing environment companies and brands operate in will be described, followed by implications for and a critique of brand management and research on the topic. Then, different meanings of and perspectives on creativity, both in today’s marketing industry as well as in the broader business context, will be examined. The last chapter will then merge the two streams and draw conclusions from the synthesis of the current state of brand management and a broader meaning of creativity in a commercial context.

(Will update the sources later.)

So much for the introduction. The good thing is, I’m not finished and will therefore have to present half-baked thoughts as discussion material. Of course, I’ll share the thesis here, once it is finished.

73 years.

As another little confirmation that most of what is being written about “models”, “theories” and “new thinking” in communication, management and all those other funky disciplines has been more or less eloquently written before, a quote from the research for a paper I am supposed to be writing instead of this …

It has been found that a properly recruited, properly educated staff whose loyalty has been adequately ensured will work not only eight or more hours a day keeping up the Bell System’s public relations, but further, even in personal contacts and friendships, on company time and off, will serve as an efficient agent in spreading the Bell ideology and securing the sympathies and allegiance of groups and individuals to the Bell System.

Bell System, Public Opinion Quarterly 1937 vs. Twelpforce, Cannes 2010.

What did we really do in the 73 years between, except for changing some words?

Speaking of models, there’s a rather innovative one that TheKaiserII was kind enough to share with us:

This – too – Is Advertising.

Now I haven’t posted an ad here in a while.

I have to admit that I’ve been a little fed up with advertising recently. Not because I’m surfing on the “advertising is the price that you pay for a bad product” wave. I don’t. Or because I’ve been preaching “social media” on a daily basis only to see people now abandoning their former golden calf. I don’t do that a lot either. Not even because I’ve typed myself silly about the “new customer“, agency models or how innovation is the new black. I think I’ve kept all that to a reasonable minimum.

Rather, it’s been precisely those debates and discussions that have made me a little tired of the bulk of the advertising discourse. Looking at twitter, blogs and AdAge It seems like everybody who’s holding at least a senior planning position in agencies big or small is busy hopping from conference to conference talking about the demise of the industry. Of course, not every stream of that discussion is dull and I’ve learned a lot from reading people who are incredibly smart and generous with their knowledge and experience. I’ll attend a planning barcamp myself this summer. And anyways it’s probably more an outsider perspective than an informed insider view. But still, my impression is: a lot, a lot of talk.

(Disclaimer: The next sentences may come across as a little bit of ass-kissing. And I agree. But then again, credit where credit is due.)

When I talk about exceptions, one of the agencies that has always been impressive in my eyes is – of course – W+K. Yes, they blog. Yes they retweet when their work is mentioned. Yes, they even have an opinion and voice it from time to time. But in general, their planners seem to be more busy (unsuccessfully) helping Labour to win elections than further contributing to the echochamber. Or repeatedly doing awesome stuff. And this is, in my humble opinion, a very good thing.

Now that was a very long prelude for a video. Here it is: Nike “Write The Future”.

This fully integrated campaign, spanning TV, cinema, print, digital, out-of-home and non-traditional executions is the culmination of an 18-month long collaborative effort led by W+K Amsterdam with support from W+K London and W+K Portland. While digital teasers were released on May 15th to build buzz ahead of the campaign, the official unveil is this epic 3-minute film called “Write the Future,” launching online tonight. The global broadcast will debut during the May 22nd European Club Final, a feat that required seven versions and 30 cut-downs to accommodate distribution to major networks in 32 countries.

Put simply: it’s an awe-inspiring peace of film. (Read their full background info here.)

From what can be seen in the admitedly media-biased twitter search people are loving it. They talk about it. And they will implement it in their lives. Heck, the whole set-up with different slices and pieces of film for different culture is brilliant. This is probably what Ehrenberg meant when he wrote about “Advertising as Creative Publicity“. This is what Lannon/Cooper meant when they wrote about humanistic advertising and asked the question “What do people do with ads?” – in 1983. And this – too – is advertising.

12 Brand Definition Themes Identified (by others)

As a result of the content analysis of this literature, we identified twelve main themes which we thought were an accurate categorisation of the broad range of definitions of the “brand” in the literature, i.e. as: i) legal instrument; ii) logo; iii) company; iv) shorthand; v) risk reducer; vi) identity system; vii) image in consumers’ minds; viii) value system; ix) personality; x) relationship; xi) adding value; and xii) evolving entity. The categorisation into the twelve themes was fairly straightforward, since most authors used buzz words such as “personality” or “relationship” either in the definitions themselves, or in the discussion of their view of the brand. As we discuss in more detail in below, there is some overlap among the elements of different definitions, which are therefore not mutually exclusive. However, the twelve themes represent a categorisation of the most important propositions in the branding literature.

This is a quote from de Chernatony, L. & Riley, F.D., 1998. Defining A “Brand”: Beyond The Literature With Experts’ Interpretations. Journal of Marketing Management, 14(4/5), 417-443.

I think it’s valuable to read this kind of stuff and deal a fair share of time with what could be denounced as a pure semantic, abstract and theorectical exercise. Why? Because it could eventually help me to understand the perspective a client, partner, team or boss has on the topic, which in turn allows me to reach a goal easier just by making my thinking – or its packaging – more compatible with the associations people already formed. (That, and finishing my bachelor thesis …)

A sign showing how subjective our business is (as Russell Davies has pointed out before)? Rubbish and useless academia?

A quote from “Organizational Identity, Image and Adaptive Instability”

[T]he fact that organizations have multiple identities in multiple contexts with multiple audiences not only undermines the idea of a holistic identity but also implies that neither identity nor image changes in a uniform or unified fashion.

Dennis A. Gioia, Majken Schultz, Kevin G. Corley (2000): Organizational Identity, Image, and Adaptive Instability. In: The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 63-81.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/259263

Not exactly new, but well-written and with some interesting additional nuggets about change and adaption.

Life’s pretty transdisciplinary: my semester

One of my resolutions for this year was to keep a little journal about what I’m doing and what I’m thinking. So far, I have been pretty miserable with my self-chosen media diet. My “journal” has been what I write on twitter and what I bookmark on delicious. Not exactly what I planned.

People who know me personally are aware of my somewhat nerdy obsession with academia, which means I love it and at the same time hate what is going on inside Austrian universities. That’s why I thought I could put together a little preview of what is waiting for me at the university this term – or what I expect. I’m in the last semester of my International Business bachelor and also do some courses of the Mass Media and Communication Science research master. So I am kind of all over the social sciences, business and arts curricula. Trying to sort things out and not halfway there. So, this is what I’m up to at university this semester:

Business, Economics and Social Sciences

Bachelor Thesis – I’m writing “thesis” at the institute of Advertising and Brand Management about “The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management”. Yes, I know this topic could evolve into a buzzword-clad piece of writing but I’m trying to avoid that. More on the paper in an upcoming post.

Spanish Business Communication III – Just what it sounds like: a lecture with around 20 people and topics such as “la empresa”. Includes a presentation, a midterm and a final exam. Not much conversation and discussion going on though, so chances are I have to talk with Spaniards at that bodega about inflation and unemployment rates and not about more interesting things. Lame, but my fault.

Spanish Business Communication IV – The title doesn’t really fit this one as it’s more a culture and history class as an actual business course. It’s in lecture format, I’ll have to do an oral exam of about 20 minutes and read an academic Spanish book. I think I’ll chose “La familia en Espana”, a sociological perspective on just that. This is going to be hard, really hard.

Spanish Conversation – A training course dedicated to getting people at a level that doesn’t make the prof who does the oral exam cringes once you open your mouth. So we are talking about “La era de la información” and things like that. So far it is the most exciting course of the term. And I really don’t know if that’s a good thing.

Applied Microeconomics – Another group lecture. I first thought we’re going to review neoclassical economic theory, do a lot of formalizing just to hear in the end that the models we built are totally not valid in reality and need to be more refined to make sense. However, it seems we’re going to discuss “real” cases and analyze them from a microeconomic perspective. Game theory and things like that.

Companies from the perspective of social sciences – Can’t go to the lecture but I guess there’s a lot of stakeholder and system theory in that one. Have to read the book and write the exam.

Mass Media and Communication Science

Special Lecture I  – Television and Digital Media: The State of the Art of Media and Audience Research – I was expecting a lot from this lecture, especially as 1) it’s in English 2) the Prof. has been at different Universities including Berkley and 3) runs a movie consulting business. So far I am disappointed beyond belief. The lecture is split in two parts. The first 45 minutes, we are lectured about what can only with a lot of goodwill be described as “the state of the art of media and audience research” and the other 45 minutes students have some 3 minutes to present “something relevant” from either TV or the internet. There is no discussion afterwards and the grading depends on the 3 minutes talk and a 1 A4 description of some case. So far it is very, very uninspiring.

Special Lecture II – History and Theory of Propaganda – I was looking very much forward to this lecture, as the prof giving it has written a book I really liked a lot and is a historian, not a communication scientist. So far it’s a quite impressive display of cultural analysis and dissection. It’s the kind of lecture that makes you start thinking about topics differently. It inspired me for around 5 blog posts in the first 2 hours, so I guess I Just have to find the spirit to get them done.

Research Seminar I – Digital Natives and the Future of Information Usage – Same prof as Television and Digital Media: The State of the Art of Media and Audience Research, same high expectations, so far, same results. However, the topic itself is pretty interesting and there are a bunch of interested and interesting colleagues of mine in the class. I guess we’re going to do empirical research, analyzing the myth of the one digital native and his or her usage of information. I’d love to put the good old news factor theory to the test in the interwebs, but I guess that’s as always “beyond the scope of the class”.

Research Seminar II – Organizational Communication – Held by Peter Szyska, a quite renowned prof on the topic of PR and organizational comms. My group of three has to analyze the vast mass of trade and academic literature on internal communications to establish some sort of systematic body of work. Kind of “towards a great theory of internal communications” without the great. Could be fun. Could be not. We’ll see.

Management Lecture: New Media Management – Had to chose this one and I am not totally happy about it. The lecturer is managing the online part of Austria’s public broadcasting system and is damn proud of it. We’ll see how much reflexion and thorough analysis it’s going to be – or how much self-righteous posing.

That’s it for now. And it’s going to be a heck of a lot.

Some thoughts about concepts, executions and things like that

Haven’t posted in a while. Since coming back from Canada I’ve been reading a lot on- and offline, working on some projects, meeting a lot of interesting people at the remix09 in Hamburg. The following presentation is what I’ve been digesting so far. A work in process, a way for me to frame what I’ve been thinking about lately.

10 reasons Vancouver is a great place for an exchange semester

Good morning Vancouver!
In order of subjective importance.

10. The beer is better than in the US (I know, there are microbreweries …)

Granville Island makes an almost bavarian Hefeweizen. So you are not doomed to drink American light beer.

9. The seafood is awesome

They basically invented Salmon and Tuna here. And they definitely learned how to make great stuff with it.

8. Hawaii is as close as it gets

Chances are, you are not getting much closer to Hawaii anytime soon. (That doesn’t meen the flight from Seattle is actually getting you there quickly but fair enough …)

7. You are not strange if you are actually interested in the stuff you study

More students than in Vienna actually want to study what they study. In addition, the professors I had take pride in teaching the stuff they do. They are disappointed if people fail their exams and they talk to you if you don’t perform to their expectations.

6. Vancouver is a city, but it’s not really big

There is a downtown with skyscrapers, but you can bet there are some wooden houses right across the street.

5. You get a chance to see bears and all kinds of wildlife

A 10 hours drive gets you to the Canadian Rockies, four national parks that are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (If you are more into whales and dolphines you can also go to the Vancouver Aquarium or whale watching.)

4. There are mountains, island, beaches, parks and forrests right around the corner

Mount Seymore, Cypress and Grouse. Bowen Island, Vancouver Island. English Bay, Kitsilano Beach. Stanley Park and the Pacific Spirit Park.

3. The people are really nice

They even say “Thank you” to the bus drivers – something you’d be laughed at in Vienna. In return, the bus drivers tell you where to go and even drop you off between stations at night.

2. Vancouver is a very progressive city

There’s the West End, Vancouver’s gay community. There’s Wreck Beach, the famous, hippiesque nude beach. There’s 4-20, the marijuana holiday. So whatever is your thing, there’s probably a place for you in Vancouver.

1. Most people arrived “just recently” (in historical dimensions)

Most people here are first or second generation Vancouverites. Multiculturality is a core part of Vancouver’s identity and I haven’t even heard debate or negative sentence about that while I was here. This is so different to Vienna, where you have to face racism in political campaigns and even newspapers.