Monthly Archives: November 2009

The quality of the thinking is inversely proportional to the length of the words.

I heard an American radio show recently featuring prank calls. In this case a father had called in to set-up his daughter. She’d taken her car into the garage and was waiting for an estimate. Her dad said she knew nothing about cars so they could wind her up.

So the DJ phoned her and pretended to be the mechanic.
He said, “I’m afraid you’re going to need the water in your headlights changed.”
She said, “Okay, will that be expensive?”
He said, “Well it depends on what water we use.”
She said, “What sort do you normally use?”
He said, “Well we could use tap-water, it’ll do the job in the short term. But it’s not ideal.”
She said, “What do you recommend?”
He said, “Well, if you want to do the job properly I’d recommend Evian.”She said, “Okay, I guess it is the best.”

Now you might find it amazing that a grown woman agreed to have the water in her headlights changed. But, like a lot of people, she was intimidated by her own fear of looking stupid. She was convinced she knew nothing about cars and how they worked. Consequently, she was convinced that any question she asked would make her look stupid. Consequently she didn’t ask any questions. Consequently she was treated as if she was stupid.

Personally I work on the principle that knowledge comes from questioning things. If a thing is right they must be able to explain it. And if they can’t explain it, maybe it isn’t right.

That’s why, when any word crops up that I don’t understand, I immediately ask what it means. Clever people will want to explain it. People who are trying to blag me won’t. Sometimes the people who use the long words don’t even know what they mean themselves. They’re just using the word because they’ve heard someone else use it. And it sounded impressive.

So they think it’ll make them sound more impressive too. These are people who are worried about the poor quality of their thinking. They want to make it look more impressive by using long words.

I find there’s a simple equation for this. The quality of the thinking is inversely proportional to the length of the words used.

You either take a complicated thought and make it simple. Or you take a simple thought and make it complicated. Long words are the decoration, the jewellery, the chrome. Long words are the bling. This season’s must-have accessory. As you might expect, there’s an awful lot of buzz-words in our business.

Words that people use because they think it gives them credibility. Like wearing a brand.

About a year ago the must-have words were ‘robust’ and ‘iteration’. No presentation was complete without ‘robust data’ and the ‘current iteration’ of the campaign.

Currently the must-have words are ‘granular’ and ‘heueristics’. No presentation today is complete without ‘granular data’ and a need for ‘new heuristic processes’. Does it work, is there a point?

Well we are in the presentation business after all. Maybe this language is our packaging, our added-value. Maybe clients are impressed. If the thinking isn’t up to much, the least we can do is dress it up.

If we said to a client, ‘We’re taking a more granular approach to our heueristics, to give us a more robust iteration of the previous data.” A client might think that sounds like we’re really good at our job.

Whereas if we said, “We’re looking more carefully at the numbers so we can make better decisions.” They’d probably say, well duh.

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Hopping Mad

This week Sony Ericsson is combining Twitter, live video, hundreds of Space Hoppers and a massive dose of insanity for their latest campaign by Dare. Above anything this is a hopping great technical feat, so when I received an invite to do a shift monitoring, plucking and testing the Space Hoppers in a secret location my geek alarm went into overdrive.

Click for full slideshow

Every time someone tweets the hashtag #pumpt a Space Hopper is automatically inflated slightly until it’s full, resulting in #pumpt becoming a trending topic multiple times last week. The Hoppers are monitored around the clock by scientists (or IABeers…) until they’re ready for plucking and testing.

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Who’s killing Wikipedia?

It’s the perfect, self-generating business model. An
online encyclopedia that continues to grow as people update it. But it
isn’t. Well, at least not recently. According to recent reports,
Wikipedia has lost 49,000 of its volunteer editors and there may be serious
problems ahead. Actually, it’s probably all down to that word
‘voluntary’. People were queuing around the virtual block when
Wikipedia launched – all keen to pen the definitive descriptions of their
favourite tree frog or swamp rock band! However, in recessionary times, it may
be that people are less willing to give up their ‘intellectual’ time for free. Perhaps
Wikipedia has reached ‘critical mass’ too? Even if you are inclined
to make an entry, it can seem insignificant and dwarfed by the many thousands of others. So
what’s the way ahead? Especially when we already have access to
real-time information on virtually anything via Google, Bing etc? Is the
utopian dream of ‘an encyclopedia for the people, by the people’
really over? Or has it just fallen foul of the web’s notoriously short
attention span?

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Editor’s blog: There’s a lot more grief in store for bankers

I’d thought the worst was probably over for bankers. After recent events, I fear I may have been wrong.

A bad week for bankers. For their collective image rather than their pay packets, that is. Just when we thought we’d supped our full of banking horrors, news emerged that RBS and HBOS had been bailed out last year (behind our backs) to the tune of £62bn (that’s half what the NHS costs us annually). Lloyds TSB shareholders, who were not the happiest bunnies in the marketplace, have blown a collective fuse.

I’d thought during the Summer that the worst of the heat may have been off for the bankers; that they were finding a path to redemption and a route back to some sort of acceptance among the public at large. I fear I may have been wrong.

First, there was the weeping sore that is Goldman Sachs – who are currently coining it in and are about to share out in excess of $17 billion in bonuses. After a lot of goading (and being called a blood-sucking squid) they came out and agreed to justify themselves in a long feature that appeared in the Sunday Times magazine. I can’t say that they came over as an especially attractive lot, worshipping 24/7 at the altar of Mammon, but they made their point: we’re the smartest guys in the room, and it was the dummies like those at RBS and HBOS that got you lot into your pitiful mess.

But during the course of this article their boss, Bronx-born Lloyd Blankfein, let slip the suggestion that they were doing ‘God’s work’. This was probably an ironic quip, an aside to show he has a sense of humour. But it has gone down like a cup of cold sick (not least with God himself, I should imagine). Goldman is now incandescent with rage, and will probably never give a media interview ever again. For the first time in years, it’s also refused to publish its annual list of those being promoted to managing director. It used to be a cause of celebration and congratulations – now they probably fear they’d be lynched like those on Sarah’s List of paedophiles.

Then came yesterday’s news that the Supreme Court had ruled that the issue of unfair overdraft charges falls outside the scope of the Office of Fair Trading. The banks had won their battle. Within one minute of the announcement being made, it was the most read story on the BBC’s website – and there were very few people defending the banks.

The public mood is now very ugly. When even dry old sticks like Martin Wolf in the FT feel that a windfall tax on banks is an acceptable punishment, things have got very bad indeed. But it’s hard to see that the bankers are taking any notice. One is quoted in The Times yesterday as saying: ‘We’re not like coal miners, fishermen or politicians. We are indispensable. Without the City, Britain is nothing. It’s in everyone’s interests for us to succeed even if you don’t like us very much.’

Finally comes the Walker report, which is recommending that the banks reveal how many of its employees earn more than a million a year. No names, just numbers. I fail to see the point of this. All it does is whip all those who earn less than a million a year into a fit of jealous indignation. It may well highlight the fact that the gap between bankers and the rest of us who struggle with a bombed-out economy is widening, but where does it get anyone?

I fear a lot more grief is heading in bankers’ directions, as they become whipping boys during an election campaign. Some polls are showing they are currently more unpopular than politicians. That took some doing.

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Why brand-planning is not as good as planning

Stephen King at JWT and Stanley Pollitt at BMP came up with the
idea of Planning at roughly the same time.

I’d only just started at BMP, and I was a junior. Stanley explained his idea to me roughly as follows. There are two polar opposites in advertising: Account Handling
and Creatives. They both have different criteria.

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In digital, we can’t make up our minds.

Although that’s not actually the case… I’ve been to many a mutually-beneficial meeting within which a bunch of like-minded digital aficionados have taken to agreeing relentlessly and mulling over the wonder of this massive medium. To great effect. But we do like to debate.

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A is for Advergame; B is for Banner…

Children today are growing up in a digital society. They will never know what it was like living in a world without the internet or mobile devices. They are digital savvy and their distinction between offline and online worlds increasingly blurs by the day. But being media savvy is not the same as being media literate.

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Are Jedward the real winners of X Factor?

Below are two trend charts from Nielsen’s Blogpulse (showing mentions on blogs) and Google Trends (showing volume of searches). For both I’m limited to three and five terms respectively, so I’ve included only the most popular participants and “John and Edward” and “Jedward” have been combined. No such thing as bad press afterall…

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Whatever you do, don’t mention the name

I was being interviewed by someone recently. They wanted my opinion about the relationship between social-media and advertising.

I said, give me an example. She said, “The crowd sourcing thing that happened at that railway station.”

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Editor’s blog: Bolland can slay the sacred M&S cows

The M&S succession has long been a good spectator sport. But I think Stuart Rose has pulled off quite a coup with Marc Bolland.

Succession struggles at M&S are one of this nation’s favourite spectator sports. Ten years ago, one of the first features I ever wrote for MT concerned the mess that the legendary Sir Richard Greenbury got himself into when trying to shoehorn a bloke called Peter Salsbury into the top job. We called it ‘King Richard: A tragedy in Three Acts‘. After that debacle, M&S worked its way through Luc Vandervelde and the hapless Roger Holmes, before matinee idol Stuart Rose came to the rescue – eventually becoming the darling who had his picture taken with check-outs operatives whenever he visited stores.

The hundreds of column inches and hours of TV time devoted to Marc Bolland and his new role are quite extraordinary. My sense is that Rose has scored a real coup with netting ‘Billion Pound’ Bolland, as he as already been named. And it’s a coup for many reasons. Bolland is a hot-shot and clearly has talent – anyone who can successfully run a lager stall in the Democratic republic of Congo is worth watching. Some have moaned that he knows nothing about clothing but he knew very little about food retailing before he arrived at Morrisons. Besides, M&S’s food department needs a long, hard look at the moment (although including marmite and Kellogg’s cornflakes on the shelves might help).

But, most importantly, he’s an outsider. As such, he won’t have such a sense of who the sacred cows are and where they graze in the M&S pasture. There are some tough decisions to be made at M&S over the next two years that may well involve some startling changes of approach. The organisation is being squeezed in the middle ground it occupies both in food and clothing. Bolland has the swagger of a marketing man and an internationalist. He won’t mind ruffling a few feathers.

Rose knows this, and that’s why when asked why he went for Bolland he said: ‘He is a turnaround expert, and we are a business where in some areas we need to make changes. He has the energy, the youth and the desire to do it. Pace is important, we live in an increasingly global environment. Marc is an energetic man and I imagine he will act at pace.’ The winds of change are about to start gusting through Paddington basin.

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