Sunday, December 2, 2007

December 07 - BAM!

Two of my favourite places in the world are Piccadilly Circus in London and the teen haven Shibuya, in Tokyo. These are two of the busiest spots in two of the world’s greatest cities. What makes them so exciting is, without a doubt, advertising.

Piccadilly Circus is ablaze with neon lights and illuminated billboards. It is also home to what is probably the most famous Coca Cola signage on Earth. Shibuya is mass of giant video screens, flashing lights and a massive pedestrian crossing that has become a Japanese landmark.

Now whilst I love these advertising nirvanas, I think it’s time we as advertisers and marketers took a moment to consider our contribution to the daily advertising overload. Ads are quite literally everywhere these days, with each and every ad shouting and fighting for just a split second of our time.

Matt Creamer, from Advertising Age in the US, recently posted a piece on the magazine’s blog about Ad-Air, a new company specialising in ads near runways in airfields. “As if the airline experience wasn’t already rock-bottom,” wrote Creamer, “let’s shove a few more few ads in your face.“

“If your advertising is a nuisance,” argues Creamer, “customers and prospects will try to block you technologically, mentally or physically. More importantly, they’ll begin to turn away, or worse, they’ll dislike you. To complicate matters, bringing advertising to public, outdoor spaces raises citizen sensitivity.”

I tend to agree with Creamer, as do most consumers according to a recent study by Max Kalehoff and Pete Blackshaw from Nielsen BuzzMetrics. They undertook a web based data mining exercise to find the words most commonly associated with the term ‘advertising’ on blogs, forums and other places where people talk online.

The results of Kalehoff and Blackshaw’s study were anything but flattering. To help express their findings, they created what they have called a Brand Association Map (BAM), an onion like diagram, with advertising at its heart.

The words most associated with advertising were; misleading, false, revenue, dollars, marketers, ads and commercials. Hmmm!?

Other words to be found in the advertising BAM included deceptive, bombarded, spam, soliciting, target, banner, sponsors and advertisers. The word I’d most like to have seen, consumer, was in the outer ring of the BAM. Sure it was there, but only just.

“The terms false, deceptive and misleading,” explained Blackshaw, “all highly associated with conversation related to advertising - are quite instructive. They appear to reflect skepticism around advertising.”

I’d recommend that any marketer reading this column take a look at the BAM data and perhaps reconsider where and how they spend their advertising budget.

As you can imagine, Kalehoff and Blackshaw’s BAM found its way on to dozens of advertising and marketing blogs, where it generated a great deal of conversation and comment. I came across it on the Leo Burnett Toronto blog, where it had been uploaded by strategy planner Jason Oke.

Fredik Sarnblad, a senior executive at Y&R Brands in Singapore, was one of the first to comment on Oke’s post. “Where are the positive associations?” wrote Sarnblad. “Are we really this bad as an industry, that people don't associate advertising with anything entertaining or interesting?”

He went on to say, “I think most people at some level feel good advertising works. And this is one of the reasons why people are so skeptical towards it. Another, perhaps, would be the annoying interruption a lot of advertising contributes to in our daily lives.”

Pete Blackshaw then went and turned all the BAM discussion on its head with his comments on the Adverganza blog. “The interesting question,” wrote Blackshaw, “I think, is how much of the negativity actually comes from industry insiders.”

Given the sheer number of advertising and marketing blogs, this is a definitely a valid statement. A wise man once told me that advertising is a business of opinions. And most advertising folks who read or write blogs are not shy in coming forward with their opinion.

Having said that though, advertising people probably make up a very small percentage of the online community. However I’m sure I’m not the only adman who lives and breathes the advertising business and yet fast-forwards or avoids ads at any given opportunity.

Stop by and visit:

Pete Blackshaw

Max Kalehoff

Leo Burnett Toronto

Sunday, November 4, 2007

November 07 - What a waster

A couple of months ago I received an email inviting me to join Facebook, from one of the people working on a marketing book for which I had contributed a chapter.

Given I already had more than enough blogs and RSS feeds to read every day, as well as work and personal email to keep on top of, I decided to give the Facebook invite a miss.

It was a pretty easy decision to make to be honest, as it seemed to me to be little more than a slightly less garish version of MySpace.

In fact, I never really gave Facebook another thought until a few weeks ago, when I came across a news story claiming the site could be costing Australian businesses around $5billion a year.

The story originated from a report by internet filtering company, SurfControl. They had calculated that if an employee was to spend an hour a day on Facebook, it would add up to a cost to company of over $6000 a year!

"Our analysis shows that Facebook is the new, and costly, time-waster,” said SurfControl spokesman Richard Cullen. Who also claimed, "There are Facebook groups dedicated to slacking off at work."

So damning and, I believe, ill considered was the $5billion a year claim, I decided to sign up for Facebook and see for myself this evil time wasting menace.

It didn’t take me very long before I realised that I was now in possession of a valuable and extremely useful social networking tool.

Apparently many large business organisations don’t see any value at all in Facebook and have banned their employees from using it during working hours.

In a post for the Marketing Profs blog, Gavin Heaton wrote, “Employers may well be concerned that Facebook could chew up a significant portion of their employee's days, but it is clear that prohibiting access is not the answer.

Just as there are expectations on employee behavior and approaches to engaging and working with customers, so too should there be policies about ‘acceptable use’ for social networking sites.”

According to Heaton, Facebook and social networks are the closest thing that many organisations may have to an ‘Expert Network’.

“Somewhere out there, probably only a couple of connections away,” says Heaton, “your employee will have access to someone of great influence. They may be a great thinker, designer or writer. They may be creative or analytical.”

In my case, this observation turned out to be spot on. I needed to find a copywriter for a project, so I wrote a short post on my Facebook. I got three suggestions, all of them from people whose professional opinion I value very highly.

Writes Heaton, “Sites like Facebook provide a neat way of segmenting and activating communities of interest through their group functions. And while not perfect, they work.”

Business strategy consultant Ross Dawson is another who believes that business should encourage, not ban, the use of social marketing sites in the workplace.

Writing on his blog Trends in Living Networks, Dawson argues, “Being able to reach out to the right person for expertise and knowledge is one of the primary values of any knowledge-based worker.”

He cites respected names such as Deloitte, IBM and Procter & Gamble as examples of forward thinking companies that have actively encouraged their staff to use networking sites.

Deloitte Australia, according to Dawson, “Actively uses Facebook inside its organisation, encouraging its staff to use the application to connect and keep in touch. It’s likely that Deloitte’s business performance would decrease rather than increase if it suddenly blocked Facebook.”

“Research at institutions such as Harvard and MIT,” says Dawson, “has consistently shown that employees’ personal networks are in many cases the single biggest factor impacting their productivity and ability to contribute to the company.”

Matt Moore, writing on the blog Engineers Without Fears, took a more light hearted look at the $5billion problem, predicting that “Coffee will cost Australian businesses $20 billion.”

“If 3.2 million Australian workers,” argued Moore, “spend around an hour a day drinking coffee with each other (about the same amount of time employees are supposedly wasting on Facebook) then that means that coffee is four times as damaging to the Australian economy as Facebook.”

Commenting on a blog post about the great $5billion scandal, Paul Donnelly wrote, “Oh my god you’ve opened my eyes. I’d better sign out of Facebook now before the UK economy starts to follow that of Australia!

Or maybe, I’ll ignore the scaremongering and spend the time I would have spent making the next cup of tea seeing what my Facebook friends are up to.”

Summing up the whole time wasting argument beautifully, Donnelly goes on to say, “There’s lots of offices where people drink tea all day, but you don’t see their employers taking the Kettle away, do you?”

Stop by and visit:

Marketing Profs

Trends in Living Networks

Engineers Without Fears

Monday, October 1, 2007

October 07 - Blogger Bashing

Last year I pitched an idea for a retail trends e-newsletter to one of my clients. As part of the presentation I presented a mock-up, featuring four trend related stories.

The client loved the idea and it has proven very successful for them. The reason I’m mentioning it here, is because they asked me where I sourced the stories from.

I explained that I had discovered them while researching material for my blog. “So what do you put in your blog?” asked my client. “Isn’t a blog just an online diary?”

Sadly, this is a pretty common misconception. Even the Webster’s dictionary defines blogging as, “An online diary; a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a Web page.”

Dina Mehta is a research consultant, based in Mumbai, India, whose clients include the likes of Johnson & Johnson, Nokia, MTV and ad agency J Walter Thompson. Dina is also a blogger. Here is how she describes blogging:

“Most non-bloggers seem to refer to blogging as merely writing a diary. But that's not complete, nor does it do blogging any justice. Blogging is the act of publishing content online - in a space that is yours.”

Of course the quality and importance of the content many people are publishing varies dramatically. But the best bloggers are increasingly seen as reputable sources for news and opinion.

Pick up a copy of US advertising trade mag Ad Age and you’ll see that they publish a regular list of the top advertising and marketing blogs. The fact that they call this list the Power 150 speaks volumes I think.

Sadly some journalists in the Australian print media continue to look down their noses at blogging. A good, or should that be bad, case in point being a recent article by Fairfax journo Graeme Philipson.

“I don’t blog,” wrote Philipson. “Can’t see the point, when I write this column and others. I also rarely read them - the letters page of this newspaper and the many emails I receive is for me more than enough exposure to the unfiltered opinion of the common man.”

Luckily not everyone shares the blinkered opinions of Graeme Philipson. In fact the unfiltered opinion, as Philipson calls it, of over 100 bloggers recently lead to a best selling marketing book.

The book in question, The Age of Conversation, is packed with insights and advice on how brands can engage and converse with their customers. It has received positive coverage from the likes of Ad Age, Business Week, Media Post and Fast Company.

The Age of Conversation was the brainchild of two highly respected marketers and bloggers, Gavin Heaton in Sydney and Drew McLennan from Iowa, USA.

Using little more than the power on the internet to bring like minded people together, Drew and Gavin managed to solicit contributions from 103 bloggers for their book. As if that wasn’t enough, they also arranged for profits from the sale of the book to a childrens’ charity.

In his chapter of the book, Gavin Heaton encapsulates beautifully, the appeal of blogs and blogging. “Never before has the marketplace of ideas been so free, the barriers to entry so low and the willingness to collaborate so powerful.”

I suspect it’s this low barrier to entry that so enrages Graeme Philipson. After all, you don’t need a university degree to write a blog post. Nor do you need someone to publish what you have written. You simply need access to the internet.

Gavin Heaton recently wrote a challenging post on his blog, taking Philipson to task over his anti-blogging piece.

“I am constantly amazed by the number of experts who are available to discuss blogging, new media, social networking and that strange and untamable beast, the Internet,” wrote Heaton.

“They are wheeled out across the mainstream media channels to provide some (kind of) insight or a point of view.” And yet, argues Heaton, “It is unclear exactly where the insight comes from.”

Melbourne based marketing blogger, David Koopmans, also took umbrage with Graeme Philipson’s article. “People participate in online communication,” says Koopmans, “because the web is now a place where you don’t need an understanding of technology to participate.”

“I can write a list of 50 people who are certified experts in their field, who write blogs. However, they are not bloggers; they are experts, who share their expert thoughts via the internet. I wonder if Graeme Philipson would consider the Sun Microsystems CEO, Jonathan Schwartz’s writing the unfiltered opinion of the common man.”

Believe it or not, I don’t completely disagree with Philipson. There are millions of blogs out there and a large proportion of them feature the ramblings of people with nothing better to do than share with the world their thoughts and feelings.

But what right do Graeme Philipson or I have to criticise these people? This is the age of conversation after all.

Stop by and visit:

Drew McLennan

Gavin Heaton

David Koopmans

Age of Conversation

Monday, September 3, 2007

September 07 - Branding

One of the Godfathers of advertising and marketing blogging is Russell Davies. Englishman Davies is a strategy planner who helped Honda gain a serious foothold in the European market before being poached by Nike to become their Global Strategy director.

Russell is regarded by his colleagues and peers as one of the industry’s pre-eminent thinkers. However unlike most seemingly untouchable big names, he comes across as a real human being. A slightly overweight and somewhat curmudgeonly bloke, with a love of the cholesterol packed traditional English breakfast.

Recently Davies has been pondering the future of branding. “The idea of a brand,” wrote Russell, “has been devalued by overuse, over-claim and over-thinking.” He’s never really been one for beating around the bush, which is what makes his blog such a must read.

“There was a point in the eighties,” says Russell, “when branding was the future of business.” He points out that back then, “Companies realised you could stick brand value on their balance sheets, so they did.”

The rot started to set in, he argues, when, “Consultants realised they could charge fortunes for advice about brands. And the money people looked to the branding people for all the money-making ideas.”

The eighties brand goldrush gave rise to things like line extensions, expensive logos, vast corporate identity programmes and, of course, the ubiquitous brand onion. For Davies, “Most of it was as intellectually rigorous and effective as Scientology; somewhere between a fake religion and a false science.”

This from the man who once drove global strategy for uber-brand Nike! Talk about biting the hand that feeds.

He goes on to say that branding as science was, “Driven by bluster, energy and twisted statistics, kept afloat with hot-air and sharp-suited conviction.” Davies cites his time spent working with Honda as the source of his growing dissatisfaction with branding.

“Honda had an inherent distrust of the word brand and refused to let us use it.” This, he writes, “May well be a broader Japanese instinct. They thought of branding as a trick to disguise a weak product.”

An interesting viewpoint for sure, although not one that everyone would agree with. But then that’s what so great about the blogosphere, people are prepared to share their thinking and ideas unreservedly. And criticism, no matter how harsh, is always welcomed.

Another marketing blogger who has also been questioning the future of branding is New York based consultant, Ross Cidlowski. He wrote a terrific post a little while ago about a discussion he’d been involved in about brands taking on a meaning of their own.

“Companies can push positioning on us about product attributes, or benefits,” said Cidlowski, “but ultimately the connection is made by consumers. Hence crappy products can survive and thrive and good ones often die.”

He kicked his post off with a comparison between the iPod and Nike’s yellow Livestrong bracelet. Now I don’t know about you, but other than the fact that they’re both made with plastic, I can’t see much of a link between the two. Ross Cidlowski can though.

For him, “Both products have infinite emotional connections heaped upon them by consumers. The iPod isn't necessarily the best music player, but consumers continue to buy it and make it the market leader.”

Similarly he says that the Livestrong bracelet stands for a lot more than just cancer support. “Its a lifestyle, its a social movement and its fashion statement.” Both Apple and Nike, argues Ross, “Would be lying if this was their original intent.”

Interestingly, both Russell Davies and Ross Cidlowski are making the same point, but in very different ways. For Russell, many brands today have become saddled with mystique and jargon. For Ross, the truly great brands are those that avoid mystique and jargon and let the consumer assign their own values to them.

“Really true meaning comes down to the consumer who engages the product,” says Cidlowski. “Advertising will never be able to create that type of connection, as much as it might push it upon us. It can highlight it and push awareness, as well as sell it to us, but we don’t connect to products through advertising.”

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, Russell Davies summed up the whole future of branding issue with this:

“Marketing, communications, branding, whatever you want to call it, still has a valid and interesting role to play in contemporary commerce and culture. It's just that we've undermined our own credibility with years over-claim and over-thinking.

We need to put a stop to dumb stunts like holding PR launches for new logos, and go back to the quiet and humble business of trying to add a little magic to great products and services.” You can’t argue with that.

Stop by and visit:

Russell Davies

Ross Cidlowski

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

August 07 - Banner Bashing

There’s been much chatter around the blogoshpere of late about that most humble of advertising formats, the banner ad.

The debate began heating up after respected London ad creative Rob Messeter wrote a thought provoking post entitled ‘Digital and the Emperor’s new clothes’ for the British advertising blog Scamp.

Shooting straight from the hip, Messeter opened his piece with, “I know it's the future and everything, and everyone seems to be wetting themselves with excitement over it (particularly marketing people) but, is it me, or is most online advertising really pony?”

The thing is, he wasn’t just having a go at the ridiculous flashing banners and annoying pop up ads that we all despise. He was questioning the quality of thinking in online advertising as a whole.

Can’t say as I blame him to be honest. I mean, when was the last time you were sharing a drink with friends and one of you asked, “Did you see that great banner ad on such and such a website the other day?” Probably never I’d imagine.

Personally I think banners are one of the great missed opportunities of the advertising world. You hardly ever see a truly great one. When I posed the question why this was on my blog Brand-DNA recently, the first answer I received was this:

“The reason there are no great banner ads is because it's a crap little medium and consumers hate them, and rightly so. The creative opportunity is very, very limited. That's why anyone with talent wants nothing to do with them.”

As you can imagine, the person behind that short sighted and uninformed rant preferred to remain anonymous. Rob Messeter however was more than happy to go on the record with his thoughts.

In his savage critique of a series of award winning banners for a high profile UK brand, Messeter claimed, “If I presented anything so woeful to my Creative Director he'd laugh me out of the room.”

He then went on to say, “I think we all need to get some perspective. Digital is still relatively in its infancy. As time goes on I’m sure we will begin to see more maturity in the work.”

Can’t argue with that logic, although let’s not forget the internet is hardly new enough to still be considered new media any more.

Robin Grant from UK interactive agency CMW also weighed into the debate, by posting Messeter’s piece on the Brand Republic blog, sparking this comment credited to Mark Bower:

“I do think Rob has a point, to be honest. There often doesn't seem to be a great deal of insight behind some of this stuff.” He then went on to add that, “It's good to see the investment in digital continuing. I'm certain that as the market matures we will start to see higher quality (work) emerge.”

Meanwhile back over at the Scamp blog, the comments were starting to mount up, with most of them agreeing with Messeter. One that didn’t, argued that digital advertising should be judged on the audience it has attracted.

Fair enough I suppose, although this kind of argument can often unwittingly backfire. I was working on a banner campaign a little while ago, and the brief included the response rates from the previous campaign – A paltry 0.15%.

That’s 0.15% not 1.5%, which is surely around two thirds of bugger all in real terms. Having said that, if a million people took a look at the web page where the banner ran a very respectable 1,500 people would have clicked on it.

Now 1,500 people expressing interest in a product is not to be sniffed at I suppose, but even so, 0.15% response can hardly be considered a success. If I was a marketer I’d be demanding answers from my agency if their work was pulling these kind of figures.

Perhaps these low response rates are, as Rob Messeter claimed, because most online advertising is pony. Apparently not according to a comment on Scamp from someone calling themselves Flipper.

“More and more clients are seeing how much more effective digital advertising can be over so called ‘traditional’ techniques,” says Flipper. He then goes and undermines his argument by claiming to be, “Very passionate about not wrecking the web with bloody advertising.”

Oops! Not exactly the kind of thinking you’d expect from someone employed to create advertising for the web. And therein, I believe, lies the root of the problem. Most online ads are created by people who are not advertising creatives.

To put this whole debate into perspective, I’ll hand over to yet another anonymous blog commenter: “Banners are annoying and intrusive and represent the old advertising model of interrupting consumers. When was the last time you welcomed seeing one?

It's time to move on from animated print ads, which is what banners are. The internet offers far richer ways of connecting with people. Banner ads = boo!”

Stop by and visit:


Robin Grant


July 07 - Adland Exposed

For all their talk about the merits of digital as a communications channel, very few advertising agencies have actually taken the step of setting up their own blog. Which is probably not surprising given the cut-throat nature of new business and agency client relationships.

A great example of an agency blog is the wonderful Welcome To Optimism, by Wieden & Kennedy, London. W&K is regarded as one of London’s most progressive agencies and their work for Honda such as Cog and The Impossible Dream appears regularly on our TV screens here in Australia.

There are very few secrets at W&K London, at least it seems that way if you’re a regular reader of their blog. They post about almost everything, from their ever smiling new receptionist to the accounts they’re pitching for.

Of course not everyone is happy about this openness, and there was a lot of talk in the advertising trade press recently, after the agency blogged about its involvement with the global Nokia pitch.

They posted several photos taken at the pitch briefing at Nokia HQ in Finland on their blog, in a piece they called ‘Visit to Nokialand’. As well as the W&K staffers involved in the pitch, key people from competing agencies were also featured in the snapshots.

When quizzed on the matter W&K MD, Neil Christie, said, “I hope we haven't breached any confidentiality agreements.” He then cheekily added, “Not every client likes you using your cameraphone in meetings, but that isn't an issue for Nokia.”

‘Visit to Nokialand’ received plenty of warm praise in the blogosphere, with well known British strategy planner, Charles Frith, describing it as a “Terrific piece of blogging. Probably seminal for the ad business.”

I suspect one of the other agencies participating in the pitch may have been responsible for feeding this story to the media, not Nokia, as the agency has posted other Nokia related posts since.

In fact they recently revealed on their blog that they had made it to the final three in the pitch, and capitalised on this with a cheeky plug for the photo quality of the Nokia’s just released N95 mobile.

Here in Australia, setting up a blog played a key part in the Sydney office of Saatchi & Saatchi winning the advertising account of job site Seek, which is based in Melbourne.

Following their initial face to face meeting at the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, the agency commissioned a limited access blog, to enable them to stay in touch with the folks at Seek and vice versa.

Research, concepts and stats were all posted onto the blog by the agency, as well as videos of interviews. Getting into the collaborative spirit, Seek also contributed feedback, research and comments to the blog.

Suffice to say Seek awarded their account to Saatchis. And the whole process was covered, albeit not in great detail, on Diablogue, the personal blog of the Saatchi Sydney Digital Creative Director, Sean Gannan.

“From such a simple seed grew an exceptional and unique experience,” blogged Gannan. “ A true, two-way participatory conversation between us and our prospective client.”

Saving the best till last, Gannan then went on to add, “And in case you didn't gather already, we also won the business.”

Someone else from Saatchi & Saatchi who’s also started blogging recently is New Zealand born Worldwide CEO, Kevin Roberts. As you’d expect from the man behind the innovative branding idea Lovemarks, Kevin’s blog makes for an interesting read.

Obviously there’s no shortage of Saatchi related material, but what makes Kevin’s blog so worthwhile are his posts on the things that he’s passionate about, like music, movies and New Zealand, where he lives and works for a large part of the year.

He recently posted on the launch of Monocle, the intriguing new magazine from Tyler Brûlé, the man behind Wallpaper*. Kevin wonders, “When people are going to stop predicting the death of print magazines and get inspired by their transformation?”

Monocle is described by Brûlé as, “A briefing on global affairs, business, culture and design”. Which, according to Kevin, sounds a lot like The Economist, but apparently looks and feels nothing like it.

Rather than just drool over Brûlé’s work, he also takes him to task, especially over the magazine’s cover. “They feel a little self-conscious,” says Kevin. Almost as if they’re “Determined not to attract or entice us.”

What I really love about Kevin Robert’s blog though, is the way a Worldwide CEO is able open up and show the world that they’re as ordinary as the rest of us. His post about bidding on a painting at Christie’s New York has a childlike innocence that can probably best be described as Warholesque.

Which makes for a refreshing change from the usual corporate speak we’ve come to expect from large, impersonal company websites. And may well be playing a key part in helping Saatchis build and maintain strong relationships with its clients.

Stop by and visit:

W&K London


Kevin Roberts