Monthly Archives: June 2010

The difference between and insight and an idea

Rory Sutherland makes the point that an insight is not an idea.
This is very useful.
Especially for the planning dept.
Rory’s point is that planning should be looking for insights.
Not ideas.
An insight is something that you didn’t know before.
Something that may change the way you think about the problem.
An insight can be the first step on the way to an idea.
But it isn’t an idea.
And idea is what you do with the insight.
How you turn analysis into synthesis.
How that discovery becomes action.
Of course, there can be an insight without a subsequent idea.
But there can’t really be an idea, not a great one, without first having an insight.
That’s why it’s an important distinction.
Of course, the insight doesn’t always come from the planning dept.
Just as the idea doesn’t always come from the creative dept.
Years back I was speaking to someone at Benton & Bowles.
They were explaining a problem they’d had on Jacobs Mallows.
These were little biscuits bases, covered in chocolate, topped with jam, then covered in marshmallow and coconut.
They weren’t selling well at the time.
No one could work out why.
They tasted great, people loved them.
So the planner did something that clever people never do: the obvious.
He went to the supermarket.
He looked at the product on the shelves, and watched how people behaved.
People would come along to the biscuit section.
They’d look at the price of Jacobs Mallows.
Then look at the price of comparative biscuits.
They’d realise they could get a packet of 16 custard creams for the same price as a packet of 6 Jacobs Mallows.
So they’d buy the custard creams.
That was the insight.
The problem wasn’t the product.
The problem wasn’t the brand.
The problem was the competitive set.
What came next was the idea.
Benton & Bowles suggested to the client that they move the Jacobs Mallows along to the cake section.
Then the planner went back and watched the shoppers.
They looked at the price of the Jacobs Mallows.
They looked at the price of comparative cakes.
They realised they could get a box of 6 Jacobs Mallows for the same price as 2 cakes.
So they bought the Jacobs Mallows.
That was an insight that lead to an idea.
Which is how it should be.
That’s the way Droga 5 believe it should work.
When they wanted to help Obama win the Presidency, they looked for an insight.
They knew that Florida had proved pivotal for the Republicans in two elections.
If they could change that it could make the difference.
The insight was that the part of Florida that voted Republican, almost without thinking, was the elderly retired Jewish population.
That insight needed to be translated into an idea.
So they studied the elderly Jews.
And they had another insight.
Who is the one group of people they listen to?
Who will they do anything for?
Their grandchildren.
From that insight came the idea.
Get their grandchildren, which was a group that was already pro-Obama, to travel to Florida.
To visit their grandparents and educate them about why they should vote for Obama.
So they made a commercial, with the Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman, talking to these grandchildren.
Asking them to go see their grandparents in Florida.
It was downloaded 1.25 million times from the Internet.
25,000 young people signed up online to visit their grandparents in Florida.
But the real numbers are as follows.
320,000 elderly Jews voted for Obama.
Obama won Florida by 170,000 votes.

And that’s how an insight is translated into an idea.

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Editor’s blog: A World Cup post mortem

Capello’s biggest managerial failing, and the paralysing fear of failure.

OK. We’re all feeling as bad as you are here. It almost ruined my weekend. But look at it this way: if we’d won, how agonising would it have been to see our helpless boys being toyed with by Messi, Tevez and co? So, by way of a mini-MT post-mortem, a few thoughts:

1. I’m sure Capello’s art collection reveals he is a man of taste and culture. And I know he’s managed teams to success in the Champions League, plus the Italian and Spanish leagues. But when you manage a team of people, it is essential you can communicate clearly with them. Capello’s English remains poor. It may not take words that contain more than two syllables to get through to Wayne Rooney (one tap for yes, two taps for no, administered to the skull, has been known to work a treat). But Wayne doesn’t speak any Italian, even if his wife is really accomplished at reading the names on Prada and Armani bags. If he is to stay, Capello needs a GCSE in English within the next six months.

2. On the subject of Rooney: how does a player of his ability, who was onto anything for his club last season, turn in four performances like that? What is going on inside his head? And what has Alex Ferguson got that Capello hasn’t? (And don’t say ‘a hairdryer’)

3. The England team is also fearful of our dreadful tabloid press. A press that came out with some predictably moronic dross about the Germans before the game. The Star wittily went for: ‘Bring it Hun!…we will fight jeering Jerries on the pitches’. Never mind that the German team contained a Turk, a Serbian, a couple of Poles and a Brazilian on the bench. The tired old lags at The Star are still fighting a war that ended 65 years ago, and means nothing to anything under the age of 40.

But the players read this nonsense, take heed of it and, in some instances, use the tabloids to score points over their manager. As soon as anything starts to go wrong, the unity is destroyed. As a result, England play with dread at the possibility of failure in their hearts. That isn’t the way to do it in sport, business or in families. There is no exuberance, no flair, no pleasure in performing well. Just terrible fear. And that’s a poor motivator. But never mind – they always have their eighty grand a week to fall back on.

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Editor’s blog: why content creators shouldn’t lose out

Viacom shouldn’t have lost its $1bn law suit yesterday, but it was sadly inevitable.
If I’d spent three years working on the latest Shrek or Toy Story movie only to find it up online and downloadable for free I’d be outraged. I’d be outraged because my next job as an animator depends not just on sales of Buzz Lightyear slippers and Donkey Happy Meals. And, of course, I’d be even more outraged if I was the studio owner who was in the hole to the tune of scores of millions of dollars and wanted to show the shareholders a return. Nicking these films is theft in the same way as the Brinks Mat bullion job or pilfering from the shelves at Oddbins is theft. But it’s a war that is lost and Viacom knows it. It has other battles to fight.

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The small stuff is the big stuff

We once went to Portland to shoot an animated commercial.
We went to Will Vinton’s Claymation studio.
One of the best stop-frame animation companies in the world.
When we got out at Portland airport, we got a cab into town.
I asked the cab driver how her day had been so far.
She said, “Better than some people’s, I guess.”
I asked her what she meant.
She said, “Half hour ago I picked up a guy at the airport who asked me to take him to a hotel I never heard of.
He said it was the biggest hotel in Portland.
They were holding a huge conference and he was due to give the main speech there in a half hour.
I said, how can it be the biggest hotel if I never heard of it?
He said, how can a cab driver not know the biggest hotel in Portland?
I said, I been driving a cab ten years and I never heard of it.
So he got out his cell phone called his office.
And he says he’s in Portland and the cab driver doesn’t know the hotel. So give him the goddam address for the stupid cab driver.
And you know what?
Turns out the hotel was in Portland alright.
But it was in Portland Maine, not Portland Oregon.
This Portland’s on the West coast.
That Portland’s on the East coast.
I guess his secretary booked him tickets to the wrong Portland.
I never seen no one so angry.
Yelling because this is the most important speech of his career, and everyone has flown in from all over the US to listen to him.
And they’re waiting for him to deliver his speech.
And he’s the only one who ain’t there.
So, like I said, I’m having a better day than some I guess.”
For me, was that was a great lesson in priorities.
That guy had decided the most important thing was the speech.
Naturally enough.
But he also decided nothing else was even worth bothering with.
Big mistake.
If you don’t get the small stuff right, the big stuff doesn’t happen.
One time, our agency was trying to get on the pitch list for National Express.
We had a chemistry meeting with the client scheduled for 10.30am.
The account man decided to impress them.
He went to Victoria coach station to get the 8.30am National Express coach.
He’d take it as far as Golders Green, then get the tube back to work.
He’d be back at the office in time for the meeting.
He’d debrief the client on what he’d learned.
He’d tell them about the whole National Express experience.
Booking the tickets, waiting for the bus, the service on board, the level of comfort, the journey itself, on-board facilities, etc.
And he’d tell them what were the main issues he felt needed addressing.
He felt he’d have a lot more credibility, having just been on one of their coaches.
So at 10.30 the client turned up for the meeting.
In fact everyone turned up except the account man.
We waited.
And waited.
Around 11am he called in from his mobile phone.
He was still on the bus and he couldn’t get off.
He assumed all National Express buses stopped at Golders Green.
So he hadn’t checked the one he got on.
It didn’t stop at Golders Green.
In fact, it didn’t stop until Birmingham.
So he wouldn’t be at the meeting after all.

The small stuff didn’t happen, so the big stuff didn’t happen.

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Editor’s blog: The four-litre enema syringe

This Budget will fundamentally change the nature of the public sector. And not before time.

Well that wasn’t so bad, was it? I feel a bit like the patient who has been approached from the end of the ward by Sister Hattie Jacques with a four-litre enema syringe and then hardly felt the pain of insertion. In fact, she passed me by and delivered it to someone else. (Probably someone less well off than me.)

What one must approve of, though, is that it looks like the era of consistent government expansion has now been brought to an abrupt close by Wee Georgie’s first budget. Spending in ‘non-ring fenced’ departments (i.e. most of them) is set to come down by 25% over the next five years, which is bound to result in many thousands of civil servants facing the squeeze, possibly even the chop. We all know – and observe day in, day out – wasteful spending that wouldn’t be tolerated in our own families or companies. The fact that it’s ‘someone else’s money’ is an appalling excuse.

The budget will fundamentally change the nature of the public sector and make sure it tightens its belt as the rest of us have been doing since 2008. What’s more, a two year pay freeze has been imposed across the entire public sector, although those on less than £22k will get a £250 pay rise. I don’t know about you, but I can’t see that being enough to stem the tide of foaming invective from the Bob Crows of this world. What Bob needs to realise is that he has got off lightly – in Spain, public sector workers are 5% down on their monthly salary packet. I hope mass walk-outs don’t occur because they are fruitless. All they will do is make a political point, and George is highly unlikely to budge.

It’s clear that with this package of measures, Osborne and his more or less reluctant Lib Dem chums are eager to show that the high-water mark for big government has passed, and that life in future will be less statist. I suppose there may be a reverse of the transfer of the skills that has occurred from the private to the public sector over the last decade. The civil service nest is starting to look a lot less well feathered than it did a year ago – and there’s still more grief to come with public sector pensions.

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FA Shambles, Dodgy Bookies and Lame Excuses

I was out with some media people last Friday afternoon, in a lively pub packed with Slovenian supporters, and one of them asked me if I was going to blog about the World Cup. I could write about how Americans just don’t seem to get how to publicly support their national soccer team. However, why would I do anything further, however small, to damage our special relationship?

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Advertising is how. Not waht.

40,000 people died on the guillotine in The French Revolution.
But the man who introduced it was an opponent of the death penalty.
How does that work?
Joseph Guillotine was a doctor, and a humanitarian.
He was horrified by the way people were put to death.
They were either hanged or beheaded.
Hanging wasn’t a fast neck-breaking process.
It was slow strangulation.
It could take up to half an hour to die, choking and kicking.
And beheading wasn’t the quick, single stroke of a razor sharp axe.
Often it took a dozen hacking blows with a blunt blade.
It was messy, bloody, and unbelievably painful.
The base of the skull and the spine were crushed and broken.
People writhed in agony.
Sometimes dying from loss of blood before their head was eventually severed.
Nobody much cared, because the purpose was as much about suffering as death.
Dr. Guillotine thought it was cruel and barbaric.
If people had to be killed, at least we should do it as painlessly as possible.
Which is what the guillotine was about.
A quick, simple death.
One clean stroke.
But of course, afterwards he wasn’t seen as a humanitarian.
He was seen as the man who invented the device that killed 40,000 people.
As if it was his decision to kill all those people.
The fact that he designed a more efficient way of doing something seemed somehow to make him responsible for what was done.
At least in the publics’ mind.
But that’s often what happens.
Design is misunderstood.
You see design isn’t what you do.
Design is how you do it.
In the Battle Of Britain, the Spitfire fought the Messerschmitt 109.
Both planes were equally good.
Fast, manoeuvrable, powerful.
Nothing to choose between them in the air.
Except for the way they were designed.
It took 13,000 man-hours to build a Spitfire.
But it only took 4,000 man-hours to build a Messerschmitt 109.
So, thanks to the German designers, they could build three 109s while we were building a single Spitfire.
That’s what their design was about.
Finding a better way to do what was wanted.
Messerschmitt designers weren’t responsible for The Blitz.
Anymore than Joseph Guillotine was responsible for the mass executions of The French revolution.
They built a better product.
That was their job.
I feel the same way about advertising.
Advertising, like design, is how you do something better.
It’s not about what you do.
If the government decides it’s legal, even desirable, to sell something, then that’s what advertising does.
Good advertising does it better.
Another word for advertising is publicity.
Publicising what exists.
That’s all.
Publicising it, not creating it.

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The facts of life

I was talking to Mary Wear the other day.
Mary is an interesting person.
She has pretty much set her life up exactly as she wants.
Rather than just go along with what crops up.
What most of us do is decide between whatever choices we’re given.
Mary doesn’t do that.
She went to university and got a degree in English.
Then she got a job in account handling.
But she didn’t like it much.
It was just lots of meetings about other people’s work.
The creative dept seemed to be having much more fun.
She wanted to do that.
So she quit her job in account handling.
And she went back to college.
She did a course at Hounslow, run by Dave Morris.
And she became a copywriter.
She worked with Damon Collins, and they won a lot of awards together.
Now Mary works at AMV.
A really good job, at a really good agency.
But she also wanted a life outside advertising.
In the country, with her young family and her sheep.
So she set it up so that she works a three day week at AMV.
And she still wins awards.
Now the reason Mary was able to do all this is that she’s very straight.
She’s outspoken in the truest sense: she speaks out.
She doesn’t beat around the bush.
She doesn’t try to guess what other people are thinking.
If she wants something a certain way she’ll say so.
And if she can’t have it, she’ll want to know the reason why.
And she’ll want to debate it
Account men always found this very difficult.
They couldn’t give her a woolly brief.
They couldn’t cover up a lack of thinking with long words.
Put simply, Mary is ‘no nonsense’.
I asked her why she chose to do advertising in the first place.
She said, “Well it’s all around us isn’t it? There’s tons of it everywhere. It’s a fact of life, like architecture. I just thought why can’t it be better?”
I loved that.
No justification, no moral quandary, no need to justify advertising’s purpose.
Just acceptance.
This isn’t difficult.
It’s not art or culture.
It’s not religion.
It’s not medicine.
It’s not politics.
It’s not science.
Why can’t it just be funnier, or catchier, or wittier?
Why can’t it have better music, better writing, better acting.
Why can’t it be something people enjoy, rather than a nuisance?
Instead of arguing whether advertising should or shouldn’t exist.
Instead of arguing whether advertising is good or bad.
Instead of arguing whether advertising is dead or not.
Instead of treating it like a great moral debate.
Why can’t we just accept that it’s there, and let’s do it better?
Just like architecture.
There’s lots of it, it’s everywhere, and it costs a fortune.
The buildings are going up anyway.
Why do they have to be ugly?
We don’t keep arguing about whether or not we need architecture.
It’s a fact of life.
It exists.
As Mary said, advertising is like that.

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Outdoor scores every time; re-count demanded of Media 360 votes

Those of you who were at Media 360 in Manchester last week will know that TV won the audience vote as the medium with the brightest future during “The Great Media Ideas Lab” session.

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Tony Adams was the captain of Arsenal, and one of the best defenders they ever had.
When he controlled their defence it was the best in the Premiership.
A couple of years ago I read his book.
It wasn’t a good book.
Sports biographies hardly ever are.
But there’s usually something you can learn, somewhere in there.
A simple principle.
And there was in Tony Adams’ book.
I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something like this.
“I wouldn’t try to take the ball off the opposing forward.
See, if I went to take the ball I was committed.
And, if I missed, he could just go past me.
Plus there’s the possibility of missing the ball and getting the player.
In which case I’d give away a free kick in a dangerous area.
So I never tried to take the ball off them.
I’d just shut them down.
Stay right on them and let them know they weren’t getting past me.
I’d do this about thirty yards out.
They knew they weren’t getting past me, but they knew I wouldn’t take the ball.
This meant they had a chance to shoot, which is irresistible for most forwards.
Sop that’s what they’d do, shoot from thirty yards.
And I knew I had David Seaman behind me.
And I knew he could handle pretty much anything from thirty yards.”
This is a man speaking who really knows his defence.
He knows his team-mates.
So he knows who he can trust.
He’s not playing like an individual but part of a team.
He knows exactly how the different parts operate.
And what his job in the machine is.
And the machine works if everyone does their job as well as they can.
Instead of watching what someone else is doing.
That’s how I like to work.
With different people each being responsible for different jobs.
Everyone fitting in and doing their specialist part.
Of course, everyone’s got an opinion about everyone else’s job.
And you make that available as input.
But whoever is responsible for their area needs to be responsible.
Not spend half their time worrying about someone else’s area.
You have to find out who you can trust to do what.
Then, when you know that, trust them.
Don’t keep trying to do their job.
Feeling you have to take the ball off an attacker is only necessary when you don’t trust the goalie.
If you trust the goalie to handle long-range shots, make sure that’s what he gets.
I’m the same when I first work with a new account man.
When they’re first presenting work to the client I go along with them.
If they do it better than me I know I don’t need to go again.
I know I can trust them.
It’s the same with art directors.
Gordon has a better visual sense than me.
And like all the best art directors, he’s a fusspot about detail.
I’m not.
So I don’t go on stills shoots, or to retouching, or grading commercials.
I trust him.
Planners, TV producers, media guys, whatever their job.
I like to know what they do.
And if they can do their job better than I could.
Then if it goes wrong, I can’t bitch about it.
Because I couldn’t have done it better.
So I can concentrate on just doing my job 100%.
Generally I like Tony Adams’ approach.
Find out who you’re working with and what they’re good at.
Find out what you can trust them to do.

Then trust them.

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