The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


There’s Nothing Like A Crisis To Show How Good A Brand Really Is … Or Isn’t.
November 30, 2011, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

So as much as I read different magazines each and every week, there are a few that I make sure I check out every edition and that is ‘The Week’.

The Week is basically a compendium of the recent weeks news and is quite simply, awesome.

Anyway, the last page of the magazine is always an article that has featured in another publication and recently, they printed this:

It’s basically the story of a journalist who had her gmail account held ransom by a hacker.

Within the article, she talks about how [sorry George] Google had been no help.

She say’s …

“My hacker had given me better feedback than Gmail and Google. The company that presents itself as the friendly face of the web doesn’t have a single human being to talk to in these circumstances. The UK office just cut me off and, after a friend waited 20 minutes to ask the head of the US team if there was anything that could be done to help, they received a simple “nope”. When someone did bother to look into my problem [which was because a friend of a friend worked at Google] it took 5 minutes to fix”.

Now that’s all well and good, however when I was looking through the rest of the magazine, I saw this:

Yep, it’s an ad – by Google – about how to come up with a strong password.

Coincidence?

Not a fucking chance.

I’ve never seen Google advertise in this mag before.

I’ve hardly ever seen Google use print to advertise fullstop.

And it’s pretty bloody amazing that on the very week that a magazine prints a story questioning their [1] security and [2] customer service, they decide to run a full page ad talking about how to come up with a more secure password.

On one hand I think the advertising team at The Week should be congratulated for obviously seeing the opportunity to make Google cough up cash [and an ad] but the fact Google fell for it is similar to brands that pull their advertising just because a niche consumer group has taken offense and started making loud noises about it.

Don’t get me wrong, the fact that this poor woman couldn’t get any help from Google is pretty shit – but to do an ad saying “how to choose a better password” makes them look even worse because even a village idiot can see they are doing it out of fear.

But what’s worse – at least for me – is what they did.

By running an ad about passwords, it feels like Google are attempting to shift all the blame about this situation on to this poor woman’s shoulders … inferring that if she’d chosen a better password, none of this would have happened and that not only makes Google look corporate and ugly, it shows they have completely failed to grasp the point she was actually making.

I appreciate no brand wants negative PR against them, but sometimes it’s worth taking it on the chin, learning from it and changing your policies … because churning out a knee-jerk reaction ad basically turns the whole sorry situation into an ugly US vs THEM situation which basically increases the odds of escalating the problem and making more people question the faith that have put in your brand.

A crisis is one of the best ways for a brand to prove itself to their audience – existing and potential. What a shame so many end up using it to demonstrate their pettiness, weakness, coldness and fear.

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How News Has Changed In One Picture …
November 29, 2011, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

… OK so the fact I tweeted about Jimmy Savile’s death just before the UK Daily Telegraph, is hardly a damning indictment on British news agencies – however less than 10 years ago, the chances of this happening were very small and not just because Twitter wasn’t around.

The speed and volume of information we now have access too is amazing and unparalleled but in my mind there are 2 major issues with all this … issues that I believe affect adland as much as anyone.
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1. WE’RE IN DANGER OF BECOMING A CULTURE THAT MISTAKES SPEED FOR ACCURACY.

That doesn’t mean it always happens and it doesn’t mean speed is a euphemism for ‘wrong’ … however I am alarmed how many people fall in the trap of taking a random piece of information and anointing it as fact.

This isn’t Twitters fault or Google’s etc … it’s the people who use it.

On the bright side, you usually get corrected by people who have taken the time to explore things a little deeper and have been able to separate speed from fact, however sometimes something terrible happens – and that’s when someone else takes a comment as endorsement and re-presents it as undeniably accurate.

It’s like when research companies are presenting their findings and put up a quote from one of their focus group participants.

I hate that.

I appreciate why they do it, but everytime I see something like that, I keep saying to myself,

“That’s just one person’s view, what about every one else’s?”

Look a little deeper because what might be presented as fact could end up simply being – at best – one person’s interpretation or at worst – one person’s attempt at causing mischief.
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2. WE ARE NOW GIVEN SO MUCH INFORMATION, THAT IT IS BECOMING IMPOSSIBLE TO TELL WHICH BITS ARE WHAT WE SHOULD BE NOTICING.

We are swamped with stuff.

Stats … quotes … views … comments … data …

We have access to an almost never-ending amount of information.

Now while on one hand this is good, it’s also become a danger … because with so much volume of information, it is hard to identify which is the stuff that we should be noticing amongst all the piles of other data.

In the old days it was easier.

Sort of.

The data you had access too was smaller, but generally more specific to the issues and tasks in hand.

That meant that what you got made sense … had purpose … gave clues and direction.

But now …

It’s not that the information we have access too is bad. Or wrong.

OK, sometimes it is – however the bigger issue is that with so much access to so much data, the ability to separate the truly valuable from the mountain of everyday information is much, much harder … and with more and more companies expecting quicker and quicker results, there is a real danger that the data or insight that could change your World gets ignored – or lost – under a sea of incidental info.

The key – at least for me – is to know in your mind what you are trying to discover.

Be clear on what you want to find out and learn.

While you will still be swayed by the mountain of information that is thrown at you, asking/reminding yourself …

A/ What am I trying to find out?
B/ Is this information helping me?
C/ Is this information from a credible source?

… at least increases the odds you will stay on the path of your journey, as opposed to being seduced by stuff that takes you off course and ultimately leaves you lost and confused.
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The speed of change and the ability to access information is amazing.

They are empowering and changing people and companies in ways never seen before … however it is important we don’t fall in to the trap of taking everything on face value, because if you do, you’re in danger of empowering mistakes rather than driving positive change.

So many people are questioning the future of news organisations.

These tend to be the same people who say digital is sweeping aside all the old models that lie before them.

However while digital has had a massive impact on many industries [though there is also a lot of myth, hype and legend behind some of the ‘facts’ – like Borders collapse, which had more to do with their terribly negotiated real estate lease agreements than Amazon], I think where news is concerned, there is a chance that the ‘cream’ can rise to the top … because while people are currently hungry to consume anything that is given to them, in time – with so much information available – I believe knowing who to ‘trust’ will become a commercial advantage and I just hope the good guys can hang in there long enough.



My Wife Talks Strategy …
November 28, 2011, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

So my wife and I were having a chat – which we occasionally do if we’re bored – when she suddenly turned to me and asked:

“Do you know what beacon of marketing genius you should be aspiring to reach?”

This shocked me.

Not just because she was talking about a subject she hates with a total and utter passion, but because we were having this conversation late at night when normally any question or statement that leaves her gob is riddled with jillyism.

“No …” I replied, “… why don’t you tell me?”

She then looked at me all smugly and said this …

OK … OK … so she didn’t say “a picture”, but she did say ‘Aero chocolate bar’.

“But why?” I asked … at this point, genuinely interested.

“Because …” she responded, “… they’ve made a chocolate bar full of bubbles of air sounds good when you’re getting a load less chocolate”.

Now the thing is, she has a point.

Aero is a chocolate bar that – I think – charges a similar price to other ‘premium’ bars and yet in terms of chocolate content, is – possibly – much lower.

I don’t know if that means it’s the beacon of marketing genius that I should be aspiring to, but I also think it’s an important reminder that sometimes, dealing with the product truths head on is a powerful way to create meaningful communication.

I’ve talked about this in the past – unplanned planning – but it’s worth repeating because I can’t help but feel there are a lot of planners and creatives who seem intent on creating brand ideas/territories based on what their ego wants rather anything more ‘strategic’.

Sure, ‘reframing’ is an important and valuable tool in the brand communication arsenal, but so is embracing a product truth … and while there are always a number of issues and circumstances that will dictate which way you should go, dealing with something that people already have an opinion on – be it a positive or, as I prefer, a negative – means you can shape the audiences view head-on rather than spending lots of time and money trying to convince them about something completely new.

Of course there is no set rule … and I know that I have not explained myself well … however when I remember things like Peperami’s amazing “It’s A Bit Of An Animal” brand idea – possibly the most blatant ‘product truth’ ever communicated – I feel pretty confident that they would not have been able to create such powerful, meaningful and memorable advertising if they’d adopted a more ‘creative’ approach to positioning.

In essence, don’t under-estimate the power of dealing with things head on.

Creativity is as much to do with how you deal with realities as it does with creating totally different perspectives.



Why We Need To Remember Life Isn’t Lived In 30 Second Bursts …
November 25, 2011, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

Paul wrote a stunning post recently about perspective.

Actually that does it a huge disservice, but I haven’t got the skill or the talent to do it justice so I just suggest you go and read it.

Following on from that, I recently spoke to a friend who gave me a similar reminder about the real issues that people go through, issues which are about as far removed from the ‘problems’ adland likes to trade off as is physically possible.

In short, for the past 7 years, my friend’s wife has been slowly dying.

Some days the news has been good.

Some days the news has been bad.

Right now, the news is horrible.

He knows it.
She knows it.
Their young child knows it.

The chances of her seeing her 40th birthday are almost nil.

Imagine that.

Imagine how that must feel.

Not just dying before, what should be, the prime of your life … but leaving behind the people you love most in your life.

People you should be looking forward to a great future with.

People you should be seeing grow and develop thanks to your guiding hand and your nurturing heart.

I can’t imagine it.

I don’t want to imagine it.

It makes me feel a sense of desperation just thinking about it … and yet that is the very situation my friends wife is facing and the fact she can handle it with amazing strength, dignity, grace and positivity makes a total mockery of all the things we regard as annoyances in our life.

Bad food in a restaurant.
Bad traffic on the way to work
Bad results from your local football team.
Bad emails from a colleague, client or boss.
Bad timeframe to do an ad campaign for a client.

We have lost the plot.

We have lost our way.

Thank god for people like Tina.



Does Your Agency Want To Be An Exporter Or An Importer?
November 24, 2011, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

So when I was at the NINEMSN conference a couple of weeks ago, I was asked when W+K would open a shop there.

Now obviously I have no idea because I’m not the person who decides such things – but if I was, I’d of said “probably never” because as much as Australia spends more per capita on advertising than anywhere else in the World, there are 2 critical factors that – for me – work against it.

1. The population is too small.

2. The country is only interested in developing ideas for that population.

Let me explain myself a bit more clearly.

When I first moved to Australia, I was surprised how many people talked about only doing work that was right for Australia.

This was more than just ensuring relevance and resonance with the population, this was about actively keeping themselves apart from other cultures and countries.

Sure, there is influence from the UK and US … but at it’s heart, so much of the work that is lauded in Australia is work that will only appeal to the people of Australia.

And that seems a bit mad.

While I’m a huge advocate of doing work that is culturally correct – which, ironically in Australia, should be very varied given their multicultural status – to purposefully alienate other markets, consciously or not, seems ridiculous … especially when your population is so relatively small.

I know a lot of people will probably disagree with me … and I am not including campaigns like Aussie Tourism or Qantas who have a direct commercial need to communicate to other markets [though as I’ve written previously, they are often blueprints for how NOT to do it] … however I find it interesting that a country that seems to only regard themselves as successful when other countries heap praise on them, has an advertising and marketing industry that appears to actively want to live within it’s own borders and bubble.

Of course not everyone is like this – and I think it’s fantastic that so many people from so many other countries are there, because it will hopefully add fresh thinking to what can be achieved – however until companies become more ambitious and encourage their people and clients to create ‘exportable’ ideas [which given their location, means Asia has a desire to buy them] then their appeal to agencies like W+K is probably going to be fairly limited … unless the founders of those companies have a direct association with Australia, ala Droga5 and [at the time] Naked etc.

I hope I’m wrong, because there’s a ridiculous amount of talent there and they should not be contained by corporate fear or myopic nationalism.



Strategy Is As Easy As Knowing Your A, B … Errrm, That’s It.
November 23, 2011, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

There’s a lot of shit talked about strategy.

At the end of the day it’s simply getting from point A to point B … with ‘A’ being where you are now and ‘B’ being where you need to be for a whole host of commercial reasons.

That’s it.

Nothing more.

Of course how you get there requires a lot of thinking and exploring and ultimately, doing … however at it’s heart, the concept of strategy is simple and so here are 6 ways to tell whether the person you are talking to is talking strategic rubbish or not.

1. They need 30 minutes to explain what their objective is.

2. They need 30 minutes to explain what their objective is without actually explaining why that is their objective.

3. They have a list of about 30 things they claim are ‘strategic objectives’.

4. They don’t articulate a specific objective at all, they just talk about ‘producing stuff’.

5. They talk about strategy in terms of timelines rather than meeting a specific objective within a specific timeline [and why that timeline is important for their business]

6. They talk about what they want you to do, not what they need to achieve.

Rather than being a thin line between strategic objectives and strategic approaches, there’s a great big fat one … so if the person you’re talking to doesn’t understand the difference, let alone appreciate the difference, I would suggest you either point it out to them or just smash them in the face and claim it’s a handshake because they are so delusional, they just might believe it.



Qantas: Champions At Losing?
November 22, 2011, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

So as you know, I was in Australia recently and flying back to Shanghai, I was checking out their entertainment channels when I saw this …

Can you see it?

No, not the reflection of me with a pair of ridiculous headphones on, I’m talking about the program that appears on the bottom left of the list.

It’s the show entitled ‘Stranded: All Flights Cancelled’.

I must admit, when I first saw it, I thought they were talking about their brand fucking decision to ground all their planes from a couple of weeks ago, but no – it was the Icelandic volcano incident from 2010.

Either way, I did find it rather amusing, albeit in an evil bastard way – though it does highlight how little things can affect a brand as much as the big … especially when they’re desperately trying to make amends for stupid decisions they’ve recently taken.

Maybe the Qantas team should learn from Van Halen’s old tour manager that understood ‘attention to detail’ increases the odds of creating ‘addictive experiences.’