Monthly Archives: February 2011

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.

Read more on Keeping safe and social…


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.


Online ads are brilliant

Now is the time for all brands to rethink the point and use of online display ads.

I’ve seen two opinion pieces recently about online display advertising, Jonathan Briggs’ piece asking whether online ads are outdated and James Erskine asking why brands persist with banners and MPUs. Both arguments are interesting but are based on clickthrough rates, failing to include data on brand metrics, engagement and offline, as well as online, sales.

Brand metrics, engagement and offline sales

Clickthrough is a useful stat, god knows how addicted I am to monitoring clicks. I love clicks. The problem with clickthrough though, is that it only tells a tiny, tiny part of the story. If I were a brand like Nestle or Cadbury running a campaign to sell chocolate bars and no one clicked on my online display ad – not a dickie bird – but I’d spent £200k on 60 million online display impressions, resulting in people knowing the bar was on sale, were x% more tempted to try it and a week later 2 million people did buy it, would I not be happy? I’d be over the bloody moon!

In fact, Cadbury have gone on record to say that they can make £3 for every £1 spent online. There are thousands of other case studies that prove online advertising’s effectiveness. Burberry is one that saw its revenue jump by 18% on the back of an online campaign.

Now is the time to rethink online display

It’s 2011 and online ads are a billion miles away from what they were in the past. They can carry high quality imagery, animation, video, interactivity like games and forms, and yes, you can click on them. What I would suggest, however, is that you approach them as if you are buying content space on another site.

I believe online ads’ biggest strength is in delivering a brand message. If you want purely direct response, perhaps email, search, affiliate and lead generation are some better options. However, online display ads are brilliant at delivering this too if you plan correctly. The best direct response ads I’ve seen online include all of the response mechanisms in the ad without the need to go to another site, like the O2 ad I showed on this blog a couple of years ago (on the right).

Please, please, please let’s all, as an industry, make this the year that we stop questioning online ads’ effectiveness based solely on clickthrough.

Read more on Online ads are brilliant…


In the thirty years before 1933, Germany won the Nobel Prize 33 times.
The USA only won it 6 times.
But then something changed.
Because, in the next thirty years, Germany only won the Nobel Prize 8 times.
And the USA won it 52 times.
So what happened in 1933?
Adolf Hitler came to power.
He passed a law that only people of pure Aryan race could hold public office.
This meant that 3,000 Jewish professors were dismissed from German universities.
That was 20% of the entire teaching staff.
Mathematicians, physicists, chemists, biologists, all the professors.
Not dismissed for incompetence, dismissed for their race.
Nothing to do with their work.
Hitler wasn’t concerned with their work.
He only wanted Aryan professors teaching German students.
So all those Jewish scientists left Germany for the USA.
Among them were Einstein, Schrodinger, Haber, Teller, and Fermi.
Also two of the most influential in starting the Atomic Bomb project:
Frisch and Peierls.
Luckily for the world, Hitler wasn’t interested in their work.
He was judging something else.
Obviously, what he did was stupid.
But we’re all guilty of that sometimes.
Judging factors other than the quality of the work.
Take the agency pitch situation.
Often clients make a decision based on liking the people.
Or the agency’s location, or the decoration, or the ‘vibe’.
Almost everything except the work.
Personally, I’m a simple person.
I judge something for what it does.
How much I like it, depends on how well it does what it does.
There’s an old saying about advertising.
“No one wants a nail. They want a picture hung on the wall.”
That’s how I am.
All I want is a solution, not a friend.
If I’m ill, I want the doctor who can cure me the quickest.
Not the one with the best bedside manner.
If my car’s broken I want the garage that can fix it fastest.
Not the one that remembers my birthday.
Most pitches occur because the client’s got a problem.
Usually their advertising isn’t working.
So they’ve been told by their boss to get the advertising fixed, quick.
The client knows their job depends on getting the answer right.
So they’re worried.
They’ve got to look at a lot of agencies and spend millions of pounds on a solution that could determine their career.
At this point, I wouldn’t be thinking about who I liked.
I’d be thinking about who I could depend on not to let me down.
That means I’d be looking at the work.
Not at how much they smiled, or how attractive they were, or how stylish, or how trendy, or how charming.
If the advertising doesn’t work none of that matters.
So IMHO, you judge everything on the work.
Luckily for us Hitler didn’t do that.
He depended on people he liked, and that wasn’t enough.
In truth everyone, even consumers, knows that isn’t enough.
Years ago in New York, Chase Manhattan Bank spent a lot of money on an ad campaign.
It showed people shaking hands with the smiley bank staff, waving, and hugging each other.
And throughout, happy music was playing.
At the end came the strapline “You’ve got a friend at Chase Manhattan”.
Shortly afterwards, their competitor, Bankers Trust, ran a different sort of ad.
Their bank manager talks to camera.
He says “If you need a loan, or a better rate of interest, or any serious financial advice, come and see us.
If anyone can help you, we can.
Remember, if you want a friend, get a dog.
You’ll find a banker at Bankers Trust.”

It made Chase Manhattan look so ridiculous that, shortly afterwards, they had to stop running their campaign.


Big money in social media- quite literally!

If the buzz across the social sphere is to be believed, Facebook and Google executives have entered initial acquisition talks with Twitter, estimating the value of the microblogging site upwards of £10 billion. Combine this with LinkedIn’s recent IPO announcement and we have proof beyond Facebook that there is big money in social media – quite literally.

Read more on Big money in social media- quite literally!…

When brands become broadcasters

Debenhams TV

On 10th January, Britney Spears’ latest single, Hold It Against Me, premiered on iTunes and other online mp3 shops to buy before it was played anywhere. Interestingly, Britney’s single instantly went to number one in the US without any prior airing on radio or online. It was the brand, hype and immediate praise on social media that sent it to the top.

This is one example of a growing trend where brands understand how online turns them into extremely capable broadcasters in their own right, able to significantly build brand themselves alongside paid-for activity.

Using your online presence for brand building broadcast

Britney Spears and retailer Debenhams share one thing in common: they both have a massive audience already. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people visit both of these brands’ sites, sign-up to email newsletters and engage with their social network presence each month. In reality, brands have always been broadcasters because of newsletters and websites, even using high street window displays. However, the last 12 months have seen brands turn a corner because of social media and online video use.

An online presence will rarely exist in isolation from other media and paid-for advertising, but what Britney Spears has learnt is that by placing online at the centre of an integrated marketing campaign, it’s possible to use your own audience for brand marketing. Clearly Debenhams understands this too. It recently invested in a vast amount of video content for its website (using AdjustYourSet), which can also be found on its Facebook page.

“Today is a showcase to the industry to demonstrate that Ben De Lisi [range of products] isn’t about restraint, restraint, restraint”, says De Lisi in one of the recent Debenhams videos. This is clear brand building activity on Debenhams’ own website, and one that well produced online video is brilliant at delivering. Even SME’s are using it, like 5 Minute Angels – an in-office massage company – who’ve experienced an increase in sales enquiries since adding a brand building video to their site.

Can your brand become a better broadcaster?

Online offers a suite of marketing tools, and a brand’s own online presence is one of them. In 2011, due to the growing use of social media and online video, we’re witnessing an adjustment of use of the brand online presence.

As a result, brands like Whiskas, Marks & Spencer and Lady Gaga have successfully turned their own online presence into a broadcast channel. Yours can too, but to act like a broadcaster you also have to think like one.

Read more on When brands become broadcasters…

I’m a Micro Medici.

I bought an album last month by David Mead, one of my favourite singer songwriters. I say bought, I spent $15 on an album that doesn’t actually exist.

You see I became a backer on the US website Kickstarter, which is a funding platform for artists, designers, filmakers, journalists and musicians. The site promised me nothing less than the chance to ‘fund and follow creativity.’

It’s an all-or-nothing approach where projects must be fully funded in a certain time or no money changes hands. Think ‘Just Giving’, only instead of your mate running the marathon, it’s your favourite artist running with an idea.

Read more on I’m a Micro Medici….


I recently watched a TED talk by a professor from The Columbia Business School.
I wasn’t expecting much.
I was wrong.
An elegant Asian woman with a long white cane walks to the podium.
She’s obviously blind.
She reads from her notes, in Braille.
Her name is Sheena Iyegur and her lecture is about choice, and the assumptions we make about it.
1) We think choice is a good thing.
2) We think the more choice the better.
3) We think we should always choose for ourselves.
She begins challenging those assumptions, one by one.
One by one she shows that our assumptions aren’t infallible.
1) Choice isn’t always a good thing.
2) More choice isn’t always better.
3) Sometimes we’re better off not choosing for ourselves.
In fact, choice itself can be an illusion.
Not a fact at all.
She said sometimes the most interesting examples of choice happen to her because she’s blind.
This makes her an outsider in a sighted world.
Which makes her better able to observe it.
She was at a cosmetics counter trying to choose a shade of nail varnish.
She asked two sighted women which shade of red they thought went best with her skin tone.
One said she thought a colour called ‘Adorable’ was best
The other said she preferred a colour called ‘Ballet Shoes’.
The blind professor asked them to describe the difference.
Both women agreed they’d describe ‘Adorable’ as more glamorous and ‘Ballet Shoes’ as more elegant.
So it would depend on what mood she was in, what clothes she was wearing, whether it was evening or daytime, and what sort of occasion she was wearing it to.
The professor found this intriguing.
Because she couldn’t see either of the colours, she found herself being influenced by the names.
She wondered if that was true of sighted people, too.
She decided to conduct an experiment.
She got her team, at Columbia University, to recruit a group of women.
They removed the labels from the nail varnish and asked the women which they preferred.
An interesting thing happened.
Straight away fifty per cent of the women accused her of asking them a trick question.
They were convinced the bottles were the identical nail varnish.
So she got her team to reattach the labels to the bottles.
When they brought them back, roughly half the women chose ‘Adorable’ and the other half chose ‘Ballet Shoes’.
So she got her team to take them out, switch the labels and bring them back.
This time the same women chose the same name, even though it was now attached to the other bottle.
The interesting thing for me is what it shows us about how the mind works.
Not just the consumers’ minds, our minds.
We already know that, in a parity situation, brand can influence choice.
We know, everything else being equal, brand is often the only differentiator.
We know. when there’s nothing to choose between two products, consumers will choose brand.
We all know that.
But the three key phrases there are “in a parity situation”, “everything else being equal”, and “when there’s nothing to choose”.
That’s usually when the name (the brand) makes a difference.
In our business we have a prejudice that people always, and only ever, buy brands.
That nothing else is ever important.
We don’t even need to look at the product being sold, just the brand.
Just like the ladies in those groups, we don’t bother looking at reality.
We don’t question reality the way the blind professor could.
Lack of eyesight made her use her brain instead.
Because she couldn’t see what the others saw, she couldn’t be complacent.
And she saw something much deeper.

She saw that people, and that means us, choose what’s in their head not what’s in reality.


Engagement – Is it an Objective or tactic?

In this world of marketing buzz word bingo, words like ‘integration’ and ‘engagement’ are sadly in danger of becoming marketing clichés. Whether it’s our trade press, seminars or even just industry get togethers, everyone is talking about engagement. At TDA we position ourselves as an ‘engagement agency’.

Read more on Engagement – Is it an Objective or tactic?…


When he was young, my dad joined the police.
On the first day, all the new recruits went into a big classroom.
A police Inspector walked to the front of the class.
He told everyone to take out their exercise books and copy down what he was going to write on the blackboard.
As he was writing, another man entered the class and handed him a message.
The Inspector put the message in his pocket and carried on writing.
When he’d finished, he turned to the class.
He said “Let’s see how observant you are.
A man just came in and handed me a message: how tall was he?”
The Inspector said “Nobody? Alright, how old was he?”
The Inspector said “Okay, how much did he weigh?”
He said “Was colour was his shirt?”
He said “Did he have a tie, if so was it patterned or striped?”
He said “Did he have stubble, or was he clean-shaven?
What colour were his shoes?
When he gave me the message, was he right or left handed?”
No one said a word.
The Inspector slammed his chalk on the table.
He said “You all say you want to be police officers.
That means you cannot behave like ordinary citizens.
You cannot go around oblivious to what’s happening.
You cannot afford to switch off.
You must be aware, AT ALL TIMES, of everything that’s going on all around you.”
Of course none of those recruits had noticed the man giving the Inspector a message: that was the idea.
The inspector knew they’d still be acting and thinking like civilians.
Only capable of concentrating on one thing at a time.
That’s why he told them to write in their books.
To make the point that people don’t notice what’s going on around them.
Of course, that affected my dad’s behaviour from that point on.
As a policeman, it became his job to be aware of everything.
Especially things other people didn’t even notice.
It became his job to notice everything.
Now, unfortunately, in our job we don’t deal with policemen.
In our job we deal with ordinary people.
People who don’t notice anything.
People who are only interested in one thing at a time.
People who are conditioned to filter out distractions.
People who are doing the opposite of what policemen are trained to do.
And yet we treat consumers as if they were all policemen.
Trained to notice every detail of every ad.
The brand personality, the subtle messaging, the ironic sub-text, the typeface, the style of animation, the nuances of the humour, the relevance of the music, the casting, the lighting, the editing.
When, in fact, they aren’t even looking.
They don’t care, and they don’t want to care.
They’re not trained policemen.
They are sleepwalking civilians.
See, the real issue isn’t, is our advertising saying the right things?
The real issue is, how do we even get noticed?
£18.3 billion spent yearly in the UK on all forms of advertising.
4% remembered positively, 7% remembered negatively, 89% not noticed or remembered.
The worrying number isn’t the 7% (advertising doesn’t always have to be liked to work).
The worrying number is the 89%.
Because it means 9 out of 10 ads are as invisible as the man who gave that message to the police Inspector in front of the class of new recruits.
And, unless we want to be part of that wasted £16.5 billion, we need to change the question we’re asking about our advertising.
Because the question we should really be asking isn’t, is it right?

The question is, will anyone even notice it?