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Robot Focus Groups – the future or just theatre?

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Stephen Hawking is warning about the dangers or relying too much on robots.

Writing in The Independent, Stephen has warned there are “no fundamental limits” to what machines may be able to accomplish in the future.

“One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand”

Take a look at this newsreader in Japan – 

It’s not too hard to imagine focus groups being run in a similar way, is it?

You won’t actually need focus groups in the future, of course, as we’ll all be providing every emotion, thought, behaviour, intention, justification and more through our wearable technology (contact lenses, fingernails, jewellery, clothes, etc.) – but we’ll still have focus groups because of tradition and some organisations will like the entertainment value.

So if Stephen is worried what do other experts think?

Well, Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX and Tesla motors, reported that he thought robots were “dangerous.”

“There have been movies about this, you know, like Terminator.”

Despite his reservations, Musk himself has recently invested in an artificial intelligence company.

Modern day Pinocchio or glimpse of the future?

(This builds on my earlier posts –

Media blogged test post

I have a confession to make. I have been a creative director for three different internationally admired digital agencies, won lots of awards and worked with the biggest brands in the world, and I couldn’t tell you what the difference between a JPEG and a GIF is.

Don’t blame the tobacco brands, blame the parents.

The recent Sun story about a
2 year old, Ardi Rizal from an Indonisia fishing village, smoking 40 a day
no doubt fuelled anti smoking groups and attacks on cigarette brands. But this
is not a case where you can blame the brands or us, the advertising industry,
as is so often the case. There is no subversive advertising to babies going on,
not even in the wildest imagination of an extreme anti smoker.

• However, Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free
Kids in America said, “This reflects a pervasive problem in many
low-income countries where tobacco companies market their products to an
uneducated public.” Sorry Mathew, even I don’t agree that cigarette
companies are targeting 18 month old children, or encouraging their screwed up
parents to feed their babies fags.

• The story itself is a
shocking case of a weak pathetic mother and a stupid and abusive father, a
fishmonger. He gave the kid a cigarette at just 18 months – why would you do
that? He prepares and lights the cigarettes himself for the kid and sees
nothing wrong. Obviously an IQ
that’s the same number as the number of cigarettes his baby smokes.

• The mother claims the kid
gets upset if he doesn’t get his fix,
totally addicted. If he doesn’t get cigarettes, he gets angry and screams and
batters his head against the wall. He tells me he feels dizzy and sick.” Well
bashing your head against the wall does make you feel dizzy and sick. All
kids have tantrums (the terrible twos, the troublesome
threes….) but good parents manage them not give in to them.

• They also give him too
much food looking at how over weight he is. The kid’s a pig.

• It’s amazing though how
reality is far more powerful than advertising fantasy. Despite many anti-smoking
campaigns, nothing has outraged the world as much as a 2 year old puffing away
like an adult. I imagine cigarette bosses are all meeting with their PR
agencies, trying to work out how to suppress the story. Meanwhile, anti smoking
groups are trying to exploit it.

• Personally, as an
anti-smoker, I refuse to work on
cigarettes though was happy to work on BJ Cunningham’s Death brand many years
ago, because it does what it says on the packet!

• The product got pulled off
shelves by the pressure applied by cigarette companies because it was a bad ad
for cigarettes. Eventually, bending the rules, Custom & Excise shut the
operation down, unfortunately just as we were going into production with an ad
that probably would have created a worldwide stir.

• BJ is an eccentric
entrepreneur, a very smart businessman and loves publicity. His brief, the
dream brief, do something amazing that will get talked about and lots of

• After weeks we came up with
a simple idea, the last moments of JF Kennedy – rewritten. What, we thought,
would have happened if a cigarette saved your life, not took it?

• We managed to get the rights
to use the original Zapruder film (owned by Life magazine) that shows him being
shot. The idea was to re-shoot the last moments with a twist. As JFK is going
through the fatal
Dealey Plaza he takes a packet of cigarettes from his pocket. He puts one in his
mouth and lights it but then accidently drops the packet on the floor. He bends
down to pick it up as the shots are fired and miss him. He rises, this time
alive, and waves to the crowds as he heads under the bridge. Strap line, There
is life after Death.

• One hungry production
company offered to make the film for a £1. Another withdrew after one of the
partners feared getting shot, well JFK is an icon and there are lots of
patriotic nuts about. I guess had it been made it would have sold a lot of
Death but probably caused so much outrage cigarette companies would have tried
to stop it airing.

• A few years on I still like
the idea of selling cigarettes in a way that sells less cigarettes. Ironic

• 2 year old smoking on

In The Sun

Metro’s 10 years is a testament to business acumen

Congratulations must go to Associated’s Metro, which celebrates 10 years in circulation today.

The free city-based spoiler to Sweden’s Metro International has defied the critics, and the odds, and managed to carve out a niche for a daily title that encapsulates news-lite, as seen on TV and global wires the night before.

When first launched in London on 16 March 1999, Metro had a print circulation of 85,000, distributed through some 70 underground stations in the heart of the capital.

Ten years on, and the now all too familiar blue masthead boasts a circulation of 1.3 million and more than3.3 million readers.

It is distributed in every major UK city, including London, Brighton, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and Cardiff.

In today’s celebratory issue, the paper proudly lists the stories it has carried over the years under the banner ‘You read it here’ (no sign of the word ‘first’). Included in its array of achievements is last month’s revelation “Feb 2 – Snow covers much of Britain”.

But while its content, buoyed by page 3 staples about giant toads, homes built for smurfs, killer crayfish and things to do with old copies of Metro, may not be award-winning stuff, the deals that have helped propel the titlehave been impressive.

Realising its potential if it moves beyond the capital, Associated embarked on an ambitious expansion strategy. But when faced with the realisation that most pockets of the UK are sown up by strong regional newspaper operations, the group managed to broker a series of innovative partnerships.

It is something Metro International has been trying, and failing, to do in Germany for more than a decade.

Today, the free paper is in bed with Trinity Mirror, Northcliffe Media, Johnson Press and the Guardian Media Group. It also publishes in Dublin through a joint venture with Irish Times and is part of a European sell through a deal with Metro International.

With its network of eyeballs in place, Metro was able to double its ad rates by the middle of the decade,claimingunprecedented access to the elusive, young professionals.

Its commercial drive has also resulted in some genuine market-leading solutions, including Metro’s ‘Brand to Hand’ sampling business (Yorkie, 2002); the Metro Rough Guide partnership (Post Office, 2004); wraps on high grade glossy paper (BA, 2005); and even wraps incorporating lenticular holographic images (Sony Ericsson, 2008).

Managing director Steve Auckland rightly acknowledges that Metro has become an “invaluable part of the journey for commuters in the UK”, and is now the fourth largest national newspaper in the country, “with over 3.3m readers daily”.

But to survive the next 10, the papercan’t affordfor its achievements to end there. The well publicised profitability it reached in 2003, is now under serious threat following double-digit declines in advertising, while a revitalised Evening Standard, under new Russian rule, will also be hoping to make a sizeable dent in its London operations. The next round begins with a public fight to retain its TfL contract.

Happy Birthday Metro, here’s to those teenage years.

Move over Facebook, here comes Geekbook!

Actually, it’s called Quora – and
it’ll give you direct access to the next Steve Jobs and Bill

Got a question about your brave new
e-start-up? Post it on Quora and Silicon
Valley’s great and glorious will fall over themselves to give you
the answer. In fact, that’s what makes it so special – the calibre of people
involved. It’s built by two ex-Facebook engineers and populated by the Valley’s
hottest talent.

It’s much more dynamic than
LinkedIn too – because people are demonstrating their abilities in real-time.
Let’s say Bob DiMaggio has just asked whether machine learning will overtake
heuristic/rule-based approaches in entity tagging/recognition and information
extraction.You can provide the answer and in doing so have the chance to work
for him.

It’s already showing the first signs
of going mainstream – which might, ironically, bring about its downfall. The
questions are becoming sillier and the members are increasingly low rent. Even
the Hollywood Twitterati are getting in on the act. But who knows, perhaps
Charlie Sheen might be able to suggest the best way to document and present a
WSDL/SOAP solution to a potential integration

When outdoor and online ads collide

I’ve been fascinated by the way online and outdoor digital display ads have gradually grown so similar to each other. While it’s important to create specifically for a medium’s unique strengths, if you’re creating a video or animation for digital outdoor ads, it makes sense to think about using it for online ads too – if you aren’t already. You’ll get even more mileage out of your creative asset.

Online ads and outdoor digital ads are both brand building media that can show animation and video. Both have a similar window of opportunity to gain consumer attention as people walk past or browse the web. Planning digital outdoor and online ads together improves consistency and has positive implications for reach and frequency.

I’d suggest that the video / animation would also make for a far more interesting iPad magazine ad than the static print replicas we’ve seen in some so far (albeit with a little chopping to fit the different aspect ratio). Of course, you can – and will no doubt want – to layer additional functionality over the top, like prompts to interact and additional content.

Follow me or the IAB on Twitter


I’m away for a fortnight.
I’ll check in on the comments while I’m gone if you want a chat.



A tall, confident, handsome, muscular, good-looking man goes into a tailor.
He says “I’d like a suit.”
The tailor says “Certainly sir, I’ve got the very thing.”
He gets the man to put it on.
The man says “The arms are too long.”
The tailor says “Just bend your elbows and crook your fingers.”
The man does it.
The tailor says “There, the sleeves look perfect.”
The man says “But the shoulders are baggy.”
The tailor says “Just hunch your shoulders together and bend your head down.’
The man does it.
The tailor says “There, the shoulders look perfect.”
The man says “But the trousers are too long.”
The tailor says “Just bend your knees and squat down.”
The man does it.
The tailor says “There, the trousers look perfect.”
So the man pays for the suit and hobbles out of the shop.
And he limps down the street looking like Richard III.
Bent over, hunch-backed, dragging his feet,
Two men are watching him from across the road.
One says to the other “Look at that poor bloke, don’t you feel sorry for him?”
The other man says “Yeah but what a great tailor. Look how well that suit fits him.”
I think that joke sums up our business at present.
The original idea was to get a suit to make the man look good.
But in the end, the man was contorted to make the suit look good.
We do a lot of that.
We get our criteria wrong.
In America, they have an expression for this.
“If the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
Which is (IMHO) how it currently is with technology.
We all know we must beat the competition.
We must have fresher, more powerful, newer ideas.
The problem is, not everyone hears that as fresher and newer IDEAS.
They just hear the ‘fresher and newer’ part.
So fresher and newer ‘anything’ becomes what everyone is searching for.
Which defaults to fresher and newer technology.
Which just means the latest thing.
We must have it.
And we must have it first.
What we forget is, if it’s just technology, we won’t have it exclusively.
Everyone else will have it too.
And, at best, we have a nano-second before everyone else catches up.
Then we’re not first or new anymore.
And everyone else is doing the same.
They’re not looking for ideas, either.
They’re just chasing the technology to be first, too.
And so just being first with technology becomes the sole idea.
For us and everyone else.
Then we’ve all got the newest technology, at roughly the same time, and we’re all doing the same thing in it.
No wonder we all look the same.
And the consumers can’t tell which product or brand ran which ad.
And we’re not fresher or newer at all.
Because all the ideas are bent and twisted and contorted to fit the technology.

But hey, never mind how bad the ideas look.
Look how great the technology looks.

Keeping safe and social

week the IAB hosted an event on ‘How to be safe and social’ to explore
how brands and consumers are protected when engaging in social media. This
follows research from the IAB and ISBA that found that only 55% of UK
brands currently have a social media policy with many also cautious about
the perceived lack of control they face when using social and embarking upon
real-time conversations with consumers.

welcomed four excellent speakers: Vikki Chowney from Reputation Online; Malcolm
Phillips from the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry body
that writes the self-regulatory rules; Ashley Hurst from legal firm, Olswang;
and Ben Carter from Betfair. The discussion was timely, as on 1 March, the
Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) extended digital remit goes live, bringing marketing communications within websites and social media into
the existing self-regulatory advertising system. The discussion was also lively,
particularly within the Twittersphere where there was a wide range of
views on whether the ASA’s extended digital remit is a good thing or not. You
can see the presentations from the event here.

IAB believes it is a good thing. As we’ve said before, it is good for
consumers and it is good for business – preserving the integrity of social
media allowing it to continue to grow as a marketing platform. The very nature
of the media will always mean that there will be grey areas (the ‘retweeting’
one seemed to be the most talked about)
and we enter unchartered waters for digital media self-regulation. It is also
good that the very nature of the media means that broader industry and the ASA
will be able to listen to everyone’s views, debate the issues and get
self-regulation right. Underpinned by the legal framework, the ASA system helps
fill in the gaps, is flexible and a more cost-effective way of resolving
disputes (than the courts): we should work with it.

can read the IAB’s new guide to digital advertising regulations here,
our FAQs specifically on the extended digital remit and / or visit CAP’s Copy Advice
service (which includes a website audit at a very reasonable price!).

Follow the IAB and / or me on Twitter.


When I was a junior copywriter at BMP, one of the first commercials I did was for Pepsi Cola.
I asked the account man, David Jones, how it was doing.
He said, “Well it’s certainly caught on. But I’m not sure how much good it’s doing us.”
I asked him what he meant.
He said “Well, I was at a motorway services at the weekend, and a father came in with two young boys.
The father said “What do you want to drink?”
The boys said “Two cans of Pepsi.”
The father said to the man at the counter “Two cans of Coke please.”
And the man gave him two can of own-label cola.
And no one noticed any difference.”
That’s how it is in the real world.
We like to think the public inspect all brands under a jeweller’s eyepiece.
The truth is they don’t.
Sheena Iyengar is Business Professor at Columbia University.
She specialises in the way people make choices.
In her TED lecture, she talked about conducting research groups in Russia.
As you’d expect, her team provided refreshments for the respondents.
First the basics: cans of Coke.
But, as some people prefer Pepsi, they had cans of that too.
Then, for people watching their weight, cans of Diet Coke.
And, again, Diet Pepsi for people who preferred that.
Then some cans of Sprite, which has a lemon flavour.
Cans of Dr Pepper, which has a cherry flavour.
And cans of Mountain Dew, which has a fruity flavour.
So they laid out a choice of 7 different canned drinks.
The interesting thing was that the Russian respondents saw it as one choice. Cans of fizzy drink.
For them the ‘brands’ were artificial, just different labels on the can.
They hadn’t been ‘educated’ in brand preferences.
For Sheena Iyengar this was surprising.
She’d grown up in America, the land of the brand.
So she’d assumed infinite choice was everyone’s goal.
The more choice the better.
For the first time she saw that was just an artificial construct.
That the mind doesn’t see, or need, infinite choice.
In fact infinite choice can be unsettling, disorientating.
Recently, I heard about an experiment conducted in a supermarket.
They set up two displays of spaghetti sauce.
One display featured 6 different kinds of sauce.
The other display featured 24 different kinds of sauce.
As you’d expect, thirty per cent more people stopped to look at the display with more kinds of sauce.
But here’s the bit you wouldn’t expect.
Thirty per cent more people actually bought sauce at the display with less kinds of sauce.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about choice on TED.
Gladwell says the fact is, the mind doesn’t need and can’t handle infinite choice.
The mind works on ‘clustering’.
When the choice is over a certain size, the mind clusters the choices into groups.
Because 24 is too big a number to handle, we need to reduce the choice to something manageable, say 6.
So we look for similarities and create, say, 3 or 4 clusters.
Then we choose one particular cluster and we choose from within that cluster.
What was difficult for Sheena Iyengar, was the realisation that clusters take precedence over brands.
People don’t choose a brand first, then see what they make.
They create clusters first, and then brand preference may make a difference.
The truth is we don’t want infinite choice.
With infinite choice it’s almost impossible to choose.
It’s too much.
So we are always looking for a way to reduce choice.
To find ways to knock options off the list.
To get it down to manageable size.
That’s what clusters are about.
When I was a youngster, some of my friends used to go to the wasteland near the Thames and collect eggs from birds’ nests.
I said I thought it was cruel.
They said it wasn’t cruel if there were more than five eggs in the nest.
I asked why.
They said “Birds can’t count beyond five.
So if there are 7 eggs in the nest and you take one, she won’t notice.
She’ll continue to hatch all the eggs as if nothing’s happened
But if there are only 4 eggs there and you take one, she will notice.
Then she might abandon the nest and all the eggs will die.”
Living beings naturally think in clusters.
That’s how the mind works.
That’s what makes thinking manageable

The trick isn’t just to increase choice.
The trick is to manage choice.