Monday, April 9, 2012

What's your job title?

This morning I was doing a spot of housekeeping on my Linkedin account when I noticed an update from a former colleague. It announced that he was now connected to someone whose job title was Appointment Setting Expert.

Yep! My thoughts exactly.

Weird and wacky job titles have been with us for a while now. I had one myself for a while, when I went under the guise of Creative Catalyst at Wunderman.

But Appointment Setting Expert surely takes it to a whole new level. At least I thought it did.

In a post that’s been doing the rounds of the blogosphere lately, Lars Bastholm wrote that he was “…having lunch with a friend the other week, when he told me that a mutual acquaintance had gotten a new agency job. She was now a Fanthropologist.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t for the life of me work out what a Fanthropologist actually does. Turns out it’s a fancy title for an agency Planner. At least I think it is!

I used to think these kinds of silly job titles were restricted to agencies. It appears not. At a conference I attended last month one of the speakers from a professional services firm had the title of Catalyst For Magic.

Again I’m not completely sure what that job entails, but it sure sounds interesting. Well more interesting than an Appointment Setting Expert, that’s for sure.

Take a moment to consider these titles in the context of Google and SEO, and they start to make a little more sense.

Why? Because they’re unique.

Search Copywriter or Marketing Manager on Google and you get millions of links. Search Catalyst For Magic and you’ll get anything but. Which, if you’re aware of the value and importance of a personal brand, is not to be scoffed at.

It’s still not something I’d want on my business card though.

The arrival and growth of digital in agency land hasn’t helped either. “The industry's evolution toward putting increasingly more importance on digital marketing prowess has sparked a whole new set of titles,” says Lars Bastholm, “making it a real challenge for clients to figure out who to turn to.”

And no wonder clients don’t know who to turn to, when pretty much every agency these days has a Creative Technologist, a Director of Innovation and a User Experience Designer.

Unlike most of the silly job titles though, these are roles that are clearly defined. They just happen to sound a bit overblown when you first come across them.

Talking of overblown, our friends in the US have always had a thing for implied importance in their job titles, with my personal favourite being Vice President.

Now I don’t know about you, but it’s President or nothing for me.

Sadly a lot of hard working executives disagree. They love having VP on their business card and email signature.

Some are even happier, because they’re not just a Vice President, they’re a Senior Vice President.

Whatever. As the kids would say.

I could literally go on forever about this sort of stuff. But I promise I won’t. I will however bring this rant full circle and pose a question about whether or not many of the standard job titles in our industry are in need of a refresh.

Not because the job doesn’t sound sexy or exciting, but because the perception of the role varies greatly.

The Art Director is a great case in point.

Advertising agencies all have art directors. Generally they are teamed with copywriters to created communication pieces.

Pure digital agencies also have art directors. However their job is to oversee and provide direction to designers.

Same job title. Very different job.

And I doubt that any art director would be keen to see their job title changed, because ultimately a job title isn’t that important. It’s the person doing the job.

Unless of course they’re an Appointment Setting Expert!

Click here to create your own bullshit job title.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Frictionless sharing

Complaining about Facebook is a popular pastime for many of us these days. In fact I could probably count on one hand the number of people I know who don’t have an opinion on what Facebook has done with this, that or the other.

This column however, is not about Facebook.

It’s about something that Facebook has facilitated. Actually maybe we should make that pioneered.

Frictionless sharing.

It’s a great term don’t you think? I found it in a terrific post on Mike Phillips’ blog, East Sleep Social.

“Frictionless sharing,” says Phillips, “essentially means Facebook automatically sharing updates of what a person is doing. Whether that activity is listening to a music track or reading an article on a website.”

If you have any friends in the UK or USA, I’m sure you’ll have noticed some “I’m listening to such and such a song on Spotify” updates in your Facebook feed or timeline.

That is frictionless sharing. And I don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook, I really do, but inane updates about stuff that definitely isn’t worth sharing get on my nerves.

Again I’m not talking about “took the dog for a walk” or “making a coffee” type updates. I’m talking about updates from another social service being simulcast on Facebook.

The best (or should that be worst) example, I think, is people checking into places on Foursquare.

No issues with Foursquare per se, but simulcast check-ins on Foursquare and Facebook. Grrr!

According to Mike Phillips, this happens because Facebook enables it to happen. Which is great, but doesn’t mean we should inflict it on our friends.

Facebook, says Phillips, “Assumes we want people to know everything about us, that we want our lives to be public, our lives to be lived in the public domain.”

Obviously anyone who has ever posted to Facebook is most probably in some sort of tacit agreeance with that.

But what I’d like to see, as does Phillips, is for people to start taking more control of their automated online sharing and simulcasting.

Take a moment to look at your preferences and settings and you’ll quickly see that you don’t have to link and share check-ins and posts on the likes of Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter.

In most cases you don’t even have to opt out. You opt in.

However, once you opt in, you still need to keep a close eye on your preferences.

“It is default behavior that if a user does opt in,” says Phillips, “that all of their friends will see these updates.”

This has given rise to the issue I’ve been writing about today: an assumption by a computer program that all my information is interesting to my friends.

Or as Phillips puts it, “It equates activity with tacit approval or even recommendation.”

It used to be, back in the good old days of a few months ago, that people had to choose what they wanted to share and when they wanted to share it.

Whereas today, all you seemingly need to do is browse an article on the internet, or have a guilty musical pleasure pop up in your playlist, and Facebook can’t wait to tell your friends about it.

Whether they like it or not. And I suspect most of them do not.

I believe that by automatically sharing an endless stream of inane and inconsequential fluff, Facebook is essentially devaluing sharing.


Because when I read an article I think is worth sharing, I share it. That’s what generating great content is all about.

But when that quality content is buried within a never ending stream of simulcast Foursquare check-ins and retweets of tweets, it can very easily go un-noticed.

Which in my eyes, means the sharing culture that Facebook has fostered over the last few years becomes valueless.

And all because they made it frictionless.


Mike Phillips

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Innovation and Angry Birds

Having built something of a presence for myself on social media, I have no shortage of like-minded people around the world sending links to interesting ideas and articles.

In fact this has been where much of the content for this column has come from over the years.

Recently I got sent a link to a blog post that really got me thinking. It was titled; Can the next Instagram or Angry Birds be born within an agency?

The post in question was written by Murat Mutlu, a UK based creative innovation consultant, specialising in mobile communications.

Like me Mutlu has spent most of his working life within agencies, because, as he puts it, “The combination of creative and technical minds, plus big brands, has always had that lure and promise of creating amazing work.”

Mutlu argues that the reason ideas and utilities like Instagram could never be created in an agency is primarily down to two things – agency culture and clients themselves.

I have to admit I disagreed strongly with him on both counts.

I thought back over my career and came up with numerous examples of great work that would never have happened without the support of agency and client.

However, as I delved deeper into Mutlu’s post, I came to the conclusion that even though I disagreed with him, his argument was entirely valid.

So what changed my mind? This;

“Brands need to realise that the available hours and minutes of the people they are trying to reach are being eaten up by Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Angry Birds and browsing the web.”

Of course brands and their ads have always had to fight for our attention. But cutting through the clutter on television in the days of old was a lot more straightforward than gaining, and more importantly holding, someone’s attention in the digital world.

And, as I have argued for years, wouldn’t it better if we stopped spending our clients’ money on ads and similar branded messaging, and started creating things for brands that people could actually use and benefit from?

One example Mutlu gives is the incredibly popular social camera app Instagram.

Unless you’ve been living in the Amazon jungle for the last year, you’re sure to be familiar with Instagram and its amazing uptake. It really is a phenomenon.

So how come Kodak, or some other photography related brand for that matter, didn’t come up with the idea? After all, it seems kind of obvious that a camera maker would offer a camera app.

Yet Instagram was created by a couple of people with very little funding, as far as I’m aware.

This canny little idea, which was launched via the Apple App Store in October last year, has amassed more than 7 million users, who upload around 1.3 million photos every day.

You can bet your bottom dollar that most camera makers, and their agencies, are kicking themselves that they never thought of an idea like Instagram.

Or maybe they did. But a combination of client reticence, perceptions of what an agency actually does, and maybe even a reluctance to invest due to fear of failure, put paid to the idea in its early stages.

I guess we’ll never know.

But what I do know is that creative people, and I consider myself one of them, love dreaming up ideas. And whether those ideas are big or small, there is nothing worse than seeing a great idea die.

Not fail, die. Because an idea can only fail if it is actually produced.

And if agencies and their clients continue to focus more on so called success metrics than giving people something to fall in love with, then the next big thing in the digital world is never going to come out of an agency. Sadly.


Murat Mutlu

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Be nice people

In its infancy this column brought the chatter and commentary of the advertising blogosphere into a monthly periodical read by a group of people who had better things to do than read ad blogs.

At the end of most of my columns I’ve shared links to the websites and blogs where the conversations I had written about were taking place.

Over the journey there have been many emails and blog comments from readers thanking me for introducing them to a wealth of knowledge, ideas and thinking that they were totally unaware of.

All of it available on the internet. All of it free. And pretty much all of it self-published.

In recent times however, there has been much written and discussed about industry blogs. More specifically the bile and vitriol that appears on these blogs in the form of anonymous comments.

David Nobay from Droga5 in Sydney wrote about the problem a year or two ago. His article stirred up a hornet’s nest that sadly has since dissipated.

More recently John Mescall from the agency Smart has also rallied against anonymous comments and the overwhelming negativity that has become a feature of industry blogs.

He’s so fed up with the situation he’s; “Decided to make a deliberate attempt to opt out of being critical of other people’s work in public forums.”

Yet when I visited Mescall’s blog I found the following comment by someone known only as Susan;

“Reading your opinions about other peoples ideas for the names of hairdressing salons made me realise you are putting down others to make yourself look good.”

She went on to say, “…you have insulted them, but in such a way that is tacky and unprofessional to say the least.”


Personally I think it’s time we as individuals all took a long hard look at ourselves. And, as my Mum told me many years ago, treat people the same way we would like to be treated. Not just in blog comments, but in life.

Anyway, back to the blogs.

What so many adland figures who are critical of blog commenters don’t seem to realise, is that this situation is not unique to adland. Far from it.

It is rife amongst teenage Facebook users. And a major problem on YouTube. Yes YouTube.

You may think YouTube is just a place to go watch inane videos of Lol Cats, but scroll down the page an inch or two and nine times out of ten you’ll find some of the most horrendous bitchy, bullying commentary.

There’s no shortage of nasty racist undertones either. Yet we never hear of people getting on their high horse about the comments on YouTube.

Someone who has looked beyond the industry blogs is New York based digital entrepreneur, Anil Dash, who recently published a piece titled, “If your website’s full of assholes, it’s your fault”.

“How many times,” says Dash, “have you seen a website say we're not responsible for the content of our comments?”

Quite a lot I’d say.

As does Dash, who argues that there is a moral obligation expected of anyone who runs a blog or website where anti-social comments happen.

“It's your fault, say Dash. Take some goddamn responsibility for what you unleash on the world.

When people are saying ruinously cruel things about each other, and you're the person who made it possible, it's 100% your fault.

If you aren't willing to be a grown-up about that, then that's okay, but you're not ready to have a web business.”

Interesting perspective, don’t you think?

Of course it’s easy to blame the commenters. And so we should. But how ‘bout we follow Anil Dash’s lead and take aim at the blog owners too?

Failing that, as I mentioned before, let’s all start treating each other in the exact same way we would expect people to treat us.



Anil Dash

John Mescall

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Power of the brand

In the morning, while I’m having a shower and shave, I get a little bit of me time that I’m rarely able to get anywhere else.

And during that time I listen to sports radio.

My wife can’t stand it. Too much talking, blokey humour, and way too much football. Especially for first thing in the morning!

This 15 to 20 minute oasis of me time however has been interrupted of late by tobacco industry advertising.

Which is weird, because I thought the tobacco industry wasn’t allowed to advertise.

Anyway, the ads in question are not advertising tobacco, but arguing against impending plain packaging legislation.

The strategy behind these ads is quite clever I think, and they have a lot in common with the scaremongering we more usually associate with political advertising.

Which in essence is what the campaign is.

But scratch below the surface of the scare tactics and you’ll find that it is the tobacco industry itself that is scared.

And it is scared because the government is looking to legislate against something truly powerful and seriously addictive.

No, not tobacco. Brands.

As a reader of this magazine you know a strong brand is the most valuable asset a company can have.

There are numerous ways to define the meaning of the term brand. My favourite, is a brand is a consumer’s gut reaction to a service or product.

I’m sure there are many other variations of this.

In fact, if you search the question what is a brand on Google, you’ll get somewhere in the region of 220 million results.

The power of brands should never be under estimated. The government knows this and so too does the tobacco industry.

One man who really understands is Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi, the man who coined the term Lovemarks.

He recently wrote on his blog about a BBC TV show he had just watched about superbrands;

“Chances are when you’re wandering around your local store doing your weekly grocery shop there are brands you gravitate to.

Without a second thought your trolley fills with brands that have a familiar spot in your cupboards at home, and you feel happy about that.

Happier than if you’d actually bought the exact same products under a different label, because these are the brands that mean something more to you.”

And with that oh so simple observation Kevin has nailed exactly what the plain packaging argument is all about.

It’s not about black marketeering. It’s not about gangsters and illegal imports. It’s about the inexplicable power and value of brands.

The golden box. The cursive font. The masculine overtones of the red and white colour combination. All of these seemingly small details are incredibly important. And valuable.

To borrow from Kevin Roberts, “They fire positive emotions that inspire loyalty.”

So it stands to reason, that if the government take away those things that fire positive emotions, then all that is left is a product.

Now I’m no expert, but I suspect that without the benefits of branding, cigarettes are pretty much interchangeable. Much like many of the products in our supermarkets.

And as Kevin Roberts says, “If you love the brand, the product actually tastes better. Effectively, your mind has seasoned it with love.”

So if you take away the seemingly intangible things people love about a product, then all you have left is the product itself.

Which on the surface may not seem like much, but is startling new territory in the government versus tobacco industry game.

Because, as Mr Lovemarks himself says, “The brands that bring us the greatest joy are like calling home, meeting a friend or turning through the pages of a photo album.”

And if we take away that joy, then perhaps our fondness for the product in question will dwindle.


Kevin Roberts

Secrets of the superbrands

Monday, August 1, 2011

Recommendation engine

A few months ago a very good friend of mine sent me a link to a British newspaper review of a compilation album of early seventies music recorded in the southern states of the USA.

Now whilst I’m a child of the seventies, and love much of the music from that period, so called southern rock has never been of interest to me. Way too many beards and confederate flags.

However the friend who sent me the link is someone I trust when it comes to music. So if he recommends an album, I’m prepared to investigate further.

So off I went to Amazon, where the album had a series of glowing four and five star reviews.

Now seriously tempted, my next stop was iTunes, where I purchased the album. And it is indeed a great collection of music, by bands I would generally avoid like the plague.

This morning an email arrived in my inbox from Amazon suggesting albums I might like, based on my viewing of the southern rock compilation.

Whilst I love the idea of recommendation engines, my Amazon email proved to me that they can’t always be trusted. Well not by someone with specialised taste in music anyway!

In order to work really well, like good research, they need to make recommendations based on a broad source. An email after looking at just one album really can’t be accurate enough.

I should point out though, that I regularly get emails of this type from Amazon, and they’re generally pretty good in their choice of album and book suggestions.

Anyway, before I go way off track, let’s go back to the beginning of this month’s column – a recommendation from a friend.

Otherwise known as word of mouth this is what Bill Bernbach referred to decades ago as the most powerful form of advertising.

Bear in mind that when Bernbach made this statement the internet had yet to be invented. And it is via the internet that word of mouth goes in to overdrive.

It is why social media has to be a priority for any marketer today.

Because as exciting as it may seem to be involved a big budget TV ad with a hotshot director behind the camera, the recommendation of a friend is far more powerful.

And if you can get people to recommend your brand or product to their friends, then you’re definitely onto a winner.

Which brings me back to Amazon.

You see their recommendations are based on things they think you’re interested in. Which obviously sounds like a great idea, but based on the recent email they sent me is far from perfect.

I however have another problem with the recommendation engine model.

If everything you buy is based on things you have previously purchased or expressed an interest in, then how on earth are you going to discover something completely new?

And by completely new I mean something different, unexpected or outside your usual area of interest.

You can’t stumble upon something by accident if everything you buy is based on your shopping habits.

Which means that your shopping habits can very easily end up stereotyping you. The same applies to many of the smart new digital magazine formats.

I love the idea of the recently launched Zite – an iPad based magazine that learns which articles you do and don’t like, then over time personalises the content to suit you.

Sounds brilliant, but you could easily end up with everything you read being based on what you have read in the past.

Which, just like the recommendation engine, prevents you from stepping outside of your comfort zone and discovering completely new things.

Now that narrow minded digitally programmed way of living may suit some people, but it sure doesn’t suit me.

And hopefully it won’t suit you either.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Addicted to digital

The other day I was on the train on my way to the office. It was peak hour, and I ended up having to stand up most of the way. Sitting in front of me for a large part of the journey was a smartly dressed woman with an iPad.

Nothing out of the ordinary about that these days, but I couldn’t help sneaking a peak at what she was doing on her iPad.

Watching a movie? No.

Catching up on the latest news? No.

Playing Angry Birds? Sadly not!

In fact, for the entire twenty minute journey the woman did nothing more than check her email.

She opened emails. She read some of them. And deleted many of them. She also replied to one or two. But that was pretty much all she did during her journey to work.

A year ago this lady would have probably done the exact same thing on her smart phone. I doubt she’s alone in this behaviour. I often check emails on my iPhone. I’m sure you do too.

The thing is, it’s getting harder and harder to discipline yourself to actually switch off when you’re out of the office.

So just as many people have made a tree or sea change to break free of the urban grind, people are now starting to make the same kind of change digitally.

A digital sea change, if you will.

I first came across this phenomenon a couple of weeks ago when I caught up with my friend Ned Dwyer for a drink after work.

A partner in a small digital agency, he is of course an early adopter of most digital gadgets and devices.

During the course of our conversation, Ned answered a mobile phone call on exactly that – a mobile phone.

Not an iPhone. Not a Blackberry. Not even some sort of Android device. Just a good old mobile phone. The sort of phone I didn’t even realise they made any more.

I knew he had an iPhone, so I asked what happened to it. He laughed and said he’d send me a link in the morning. Which of course he did.

The link clicked through to a blog post that he’d recently published entitled; “Why we ditched our iPhones.” It’s a fascinating read. Here’s the opening couple of paragraphs;

“Over the last three months we’ve all switched off our iPhones, put them in a drawer and embraced the lo-fi life that comes with owning a burner.

A burner is the most basic handset that you can get.

The reference is from HBO’s The Wire where the drug-dealing protagonists are reduced to talking on pre-paid mobile phones that they can throw away to keep police off their backs.

There is no email, no Bluetooth, no camera. Just SMS and phone calls.”

Now I don’t know about you, but the idea of switching to a back-to-basics mobile sounds like hell on earth to me. I simply can’t imagine life without my iPhone.

However it looks like the optimum connectivity offered by smart devices like the iPhone is beginning to overwhelm people.

I guess one person’s idea of convenience is another’s notion of hell. But according to Ned Dwyer, there is a genuine upside to disconnecting;

“The best thing is the extra time that it gives you to sit and think. It forces you to take stock of your surroundings and get comfortable with your own company.”

Again, that sounds great in theory, but I’m still not sure that it’s for me.

However, as Ned himself says, “We’re connected to more information than we could ever consume in a lifetime, stealing moments away from the network is the best way to keep our sanity.”

Ned Dwyer