Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dec 08 - Business of blogging

A couple of months back I was interviewed by a journalist who was researching an article about business blogging. I thought he was interested in talking to me because of this column.

Turns out he had seen my blog, Brand DNA, and wanted to talk to me about it, why I blog and to get my thoughts on business blogging.

It made for an interesting chat, although I can’t say that he would have gleaned anything useful from talking to me. You see I started my blog for fun and I write it for fun.

Brand DNA is a place for me to ramble about advertising, marketing and related topics. The sort of stuff I do every day at work to be honest, except I get to share these thoughts with the whole world.

Surprisingly for me, there are people out there in the world who seem to enjoy my rants and rambles. Quite a few of them actually. Which makes finding the time the post something to the blog each and every day worthwhile.

At no stage did I set out to achieve anything with my blog. In fact I’m surprised that I continue to write regularly for it after two and a half years.

I think the fact that I set up DNA simply because I could, is what keeps me going. I do it because I enjoy it. Simple as that. At no stage did I set out to make money from my blog.

Which brings me to the one thing that bugs me about so many blogs today (and believe me I read a lot of them) is that they are written with the sole intention of making money.

There are even blogs out there that are devoted to helping bloggers make money from their blogs.

These blogs are incredibly popular. Whether or not the blogs that use their advice are just as popular I do not know.

But how could you fail with great advice like; “How to write a killer headline”, “Double traffic to your site”, “Make money from adwords”, “Earn a living off your blog”.

Of course as soon as someone found a way to monetise blogging, along comes a ranking system. A list that says one blog is more important than the other.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m as much of a fan of lists as the next man, but to me all blogs are created equal. I don’t rank them, I simply enjoy them. And, of course, join in conversations with fellow readers by commenting.

Having said all that, I was very excited to find out that I’d made Julian Cole’s list of Australia’s Top Marketing Blogs. My blog also made an appearance in Brad Howarths list of Australia’s Best Business Blogs.

Thing is I never ever considered Brand DNA to be about marketing or business, even though I write regularly about those topics. Or could it be that I know enough about those topics that what I consider to be opinionated rambles are actually educated opinion pieces. Who knows?

What I do know is that the blogs I read are written in a variety of styles about all sorts of topics. The only thing they have in common is that most of the people who write them are voicing opinions that would not have been able to be voiced without digital technology and the internet.

The great thing about being a blogger is you get to know lots of people who are more than happy to share their knowledge and opinions with you.

If you’re thinking about starting a blog, feel free to email more if you need help or advice. I’d be happy to help. To get you started, here’s some great advice from Brad Howarth;

“Post often, and post well. Give your readers a reason to come back regularly.
Acknowledge other bloggers and sources of information.

Try to avoid writing about things that are outside of your specialisations just because they are popular topics.

Don’t be afraid of using images, audio and video content to spice things up, and make yourself a resource for people interested in your areas of specialisation.

Never ever, ever, ever, be anything other than upfront with your readers. Readers can switch off instantly, but their scorn can last a lifetime.”


Business Blogs

Brand DNA

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Nov 08 - Getting Social

Stop any person in the street, ask them what advertising is, and chances are they’ll not only tell you, they’ll also have an opinion on it.

Ask that same person about social media, and there’s every possibility they’ll look at you like you had just asked them the square root of 347.

Of course social media and social networking are two of the marketing buzz-terms of 2008, but are we as an industry perhaps getting a little over excited by them?

I think we may be.

I’m not saying they’re not important or useful as marketing tools. I’m just saying that the average person in the street isn’t as aware or involved in social networking sites as we might think.

In fact, a recent survey by marketing intelligence group, Synovate, found more than half they people surveyed had no idea what social networking was. A similar survey conducted in April this year by Universal McCann also found social networking to be a minority activity.

Greg Verdino, from US agency Crayon, blogged on this subject recently. “Just because blogs, vlogs, virtual worlds and mobile social software might be woven into the very fabric of our day-to-day lives,” wrote Verdino, “doesn’t mean that any of these things have actually mainstreamed.”

When he uses the word ‘our’ Verdino is talking about thought leaders in marketing and the blogosphere. Not the populace at large.

“We're trying new things, overdosing on them and writing them off as yesterday's news long before the more typical consumer has even heard of them,” says Verdino.

“Take social networking for instance. Who among you doesn't at least have a Facebook profile? But imagine you're on a crowded train. Odds are the person sitting next to you couldn't tell you the first thing about MySpace or Facebook.”
I’m not completely sure I agree with Greg Verdino to be honest.

Whilst I don’t doubt that a large percentage of people may not have MySpace or Facebook accounts, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t participate in social networking.

As Chris Grayson from Gigantico points out, “We are too close to it.”

For him, the most popular and widely used examples of social media applications are email and instant messaging! “The people you really know,” believes Grayson, “are in your phone list.”

For the go-getters at the vanguard of social media however, everyday tools like email and the phone are old hat.

But when you stop and think about it, you can share just as much information and conversation with your friends using email and phone as you can with a Facebook account. It’s just that Facebook makes it so much more simple.

So perhaps the Synovate survey is wrong. Maybe most people are social networking, they just don’t do it using the latest hip new web 2.0 gizmos. Which is a bit of a shame, as applications like MySpace and Facebook really do facilitate social networking.

What the experts are slowly starting to realise though, is that these new technologies are actually taking us back to the so called good old days.

Writing on the One Size Fits One blog, Anjali Ramachandran says, “Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have basically taken the social system back to the period of small-town life when everyone knew what you were up to all the time.”

“Most of the people we know,” argues Ramachandran, “or at least those that we interact with on a regular basis are likely to be on Facebook.

At the end of the day, your life is most impacted by those people. So even though I am not super active on Facebook or LinkedIn anymore, I still maintain my profiles, because that's where my friends are.”

That’s also the case for me too.

The days of checking Facebook on a regular basis are long gone. But check it I do, because it brings my friends from near and far together in the one place. The same with my teenage daughter and MySpace.

As Chris Grayson says, “What these sites are brimming with are happy loyal members of tight-knit online communities.

When you’re on most of these sites, they ask in your user profile whether you wish to share your website URL, your email address and instant messenger identities.

But the true lesson to be learned from these sites is that, irrespective of technology, content is still king.“


Greg Verdino

Chris Grayson

Anjali Ramachandran

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Oct 08 - Express yourself

As a teenager I was one of the first kids to be allowed to use a calculator at school. I remember my Dad grumbling on and on about how he knew all his times tables by the time he started school. And how our generation had it all so easy.

These days calculators are commonplace. I have one built in to my computer, a scientific one in my iPhone and I also have one gathering dust in my desk drawer. That’s not to say the calculator is not a useful tool, it’s just that we take their existence for granted.

Clay Shirky touches on the idea of ubiquitousness in his book, Here Comes Everybody. His primary focus however is not the calculator, but the internet, and its ability to give everyone, well everyone with access to a computer anyway, a voice.

A professor at NYU, Shirky has consulted on the social and economic effects of the internet for the likes of Nokia, Proctor & Gamble, News Corp. the BBC and Lego. He’s also an in demand public speaker and a couple of months ago gave a talk in London, which was documented by Russell Davies on his blog.

In the eyes of Davies, Clay Shirky said something he believes we all need to hear. “The most profound thing that's happened with all this internet and media stuff is this; fifteen or twenty years ago, if you'd wanted to say something in public, to the world at large, you couldn't. You just couldn't do it.”

Since I read Russell’s post I’ve been wracking my brain trying to dispute this argument, but to no avail. The only thing I could think of was writing a letter to the editor of the newspaper. But even then there’s no guarantee that your opinion will appear or that it will appear unedited.

Says Shirky, “You always had to get access to someone else's media machine. You had to persuade your way or buy your way into the public discourse. You could write a letter to the paper, publish a pamphlet, make a sandwich board, do all manner of things but expressing a personal voice in public was an expensive and difficult thing.”

The primary difference between then and now obviously, is that you can get your voice heard on your own terms. And you can do it with relative ease. Not only that, but if you do it well, you can get other like minded people to join with you. “That,” says Shirky, “is a big change.”

A change so big, it prompted Russell Davies to pose these questions; “When everyone has a voice what are editorial columns for? How might they change? How should news change?”

I don’t know the answers, but I’d hazard a guess that some very highly paid people are currently locked away in the boardrooms of our major newspaper publishers wrestling with these very questions.

Of course academics and members of the Fourth Estate will argue that the independent voices expressing themselves on blogs and other internet empowered social media tools are not trusted sources of news and information. In 2008 this argument seems to be holding less and less weight.

The publishing power of internet and its impact on traditional media was covered beautifully by Clay Shirky in a recent post he wrote for the Penguin Books blog;

“Imagine a technology that, from its inception, threatens to throw intellectual society into chaos, a technology that radically democratises both production and consumption of media while creating countless new forms of expression.”

He didn’t stop there.
“Now imagine,” wrote Shirky, “that while some of the new material produced is of lasting value, most is evanescent at best, and that the resulting flood of material weakens traditional institutions, eroding their special place in society by making the functions they provide seem irrelevant to young people.”
As I sit typing this I can hear the sound of ‘hear hear’ resounding around many a hallowed hall. Thing is, Shirky wasn’t actually writing about the internet. He was highlighting, “The most intellectually radical technology the world has ever seen: the printing press.”

As a generation raised on the internet as their primary media and publishing source begins to make its way into our academic institutions and the workforce how will we cope with them?

Forget spending in time in the library. These are children of a different revolution. Are you ready for them?


Clay Shirky

Russell Davies

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sept 08 - Going mobile

At the time of writing, I have sitting on my desk a call for entries for a mobile marketing award. Having recently returned from a trip to Japan, where the mobile market is infinitely more progressive than ours, I couldn’t help but wonder what Japanese marketers would think of our mobile marketing.

They’d probably shake their heads in disbelief. Virtually every mobile phone plan is Australia is primarily focused on phone calls and text messages. An allowance for data is rare and generally very expensive.

I believe the high cost of mobile web access has held back mobile marketing in this country. Which is why I was so excited by the arrival of the 3g Apple iPhone a few weeks back.

It seems our telcos have finally woken up to the future and introduced phone plans that actually encourage you to go online. Well some of them anyway! My plan includes a very generous data allowance. Sadly competitor plans do not.

So will the iPhone finally give our local mobile marketing industry a much needed boost? I think it will. As long as you have a plan with a decent data allowance.

Over a million iPhones were sold around the world on the weekend the phone was launched. A million! It took almost three months for the first generation iPhone to hit that sales target. Here in Australia, as we all know, it sold out across the country on the day it was launched.

So what are people doing with their iPhones? Well I can’t speak for everyone else, but since I got mine I regularly go online, as well as checking and replying to email when I’m out of the office. I would never have done this before, because the cost of doing it was prohibitive. Now it doesn’t cost me a cent!

If I’m behaving in this way, I’m pretty sure a hell of a lot of other people are too.

And in the same way that Apple kick started digital music with their highly successful iTunes Store, they’re doing the same thing for mobile internet with their App Store, which was launched on the same day as iPhone.

For those who are not familiar with it, the Apple App Store has literally hundreds of applications developed specifically for the iPhone. These range from games to widgets to useful business tools.

Some Apps you pay for, some are free, but I’d imagine every iPhone owner has downloaded something from the Store. In fact, over 10 million of them were downloaded over the launch weekend alone!

One of the most popular Apps is the iPint. This is a no-charge branded application developed by English ad agency Beattie McGuinness Bungay for their beer client, Carling.

This fun little app has literally thousands of people spending time having fun with the Carling brand and a virtual pint of the product. Who could have foreseen this kind of brand messaging even as recently as just a few months ago?

Asked about the iPint, and being seen an a first mover in the branded apps market, Carling’s marketing director, Nic Young, said, "Innovation is at the heart of the Carling brand -- through product developments like an indicator on our can that turns blue when it is perfectly chilled -- but also through emerging new technologies.”

Writing on the Financial Times’ blog, tech commentator Richard Walters also talked up the iPint; “It looks like Beattie McGuinness Bungay is the first to have cracked the code for using Apple’s new App Store as a vehicle for corporate sponsorship.

The free game it produced for Carling has made it into the top ten list of most-downloaded free apps. That puts it ahead of things like Google’s new mobile search application and MySpace.You can bet that every adland tech geek with a taste for the viral is even now switching his or her attention to the latest Apple toy.”

He’s not wrong either. Within ten minutes of me downloading and playing with the iPint, I was already thinking of an idea for an automotive client. All I need to do is get them interested in the idea. Which won’t be easy, given the slow take up of mobile internet use in this country.

English blogger the Bubbler believes that, “Many in the technology industry see significant potential in the iPhone as a standalone computing platform.” He writes that, “Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the investment firm, has set up a $100 million fund purely for investment in iPhone-related software companies.”

With that kind of money floating around, you’d imagine the mobile marketing industry will be rubbing their hands with glee, as after many false dawns, they finally start to see their industry becoming a key channel in the marketing mix.

Richard Walters
The Bubbler
The App Store

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

August 08 - Brand promises

Once upon a time, the term brand was something that existed primarily within the confines of advertising agencies and marketing departments. These days it has become part of everyday language.

Sadly this broadening of usage has resulted, I feel, in a dilution of what brands are really about. This was brought home to me quite spectacularly, by a recent speech on brands given by the American designer Brian Collins, which was archived on the Brand Experience blog.

Speaking at the One Show festival, Collins demonstrated the power of brands by launching into a history lesson about pirates. Yes pirates, or to be more specific, their instantly recognisable skull and crossbones flag.

“Back in 1748,” said Collins, “if you had the misfortune of being a single bobbing ship at sea when a tattered vessel with a skull and crossbones crossed your path, you knew instantly what to expect.

You're fu%&@d!!

As you sail closer," he continued, "the brand promise is reinforced by everything you see. A cannon fires, shots go off: the brand promise becomes brand immersion.

In three hours, maybe less, the brand delivers everything it promised: death, pillage, and maybe a not-so-promising hostage situation.

The fulfillment of the skull-and-crossbones brand promise remained so consistent over fifty-plus years that, by the 1800s, pirates didn't even need to waste gunpowder. They had only to raise the black flag to yield the desired results: surrender, animal fear, free doubloons and maybe some teabags.

Pirates (TM!) succeeded because they connected brand promise to performance.”

In the opinion of Brian Collins, a brand is a promise made consistently over time. Using that logic, it follows that if the promise perceived in the advertising is honored by the product or service, the brand flies.

It’s a simplistic viewpoint, no doubt about that, but you have to admit he makes a pretty strong point.

Commenting on Collin’s pirates speech, Erik Roscam Ebbing makes some great points on how the pirates would have faired at the dawning of the 21st century:

“That's a very accurate demonstrator of what happened with branding in the late 90s: like pirates becoming lazy and just raising their flag to achieve the desired result, brands started confusing promise with delivery.

The result was empty promises without the tangible benefits to fulfill them. Rather than the brand being a platform for the delivery of meaningful experiences and innovations, they became a facade behind which marketers could hide from the scrutiny of the consumer.

Until the consumer started finding out of course.

And started demanding authenticity, transparency, fulfillment of promises and true meaning. To me that's where brands rediscovered their true value and meaning.

I wonder how the pirates would have managed in say 2001? Maybe someone would have posted a blog entry on the absence of any real cannons and gun powder on their ships.

Soon enough the skull and crossbones would have faded to an empty promise of a forlorn era. And even pirates would have had to fulfill their brand promise to make a living!”

There are way to many examples of brands failing to deliver on their promises to list them here, but I’d like to wrap up this month’s column with you a classic example of over promise and under delivery that I found recently on Charles Frith’s blog Punk Planning.

Frith had been on a business trip to Dubai and his blog post was accompanied by half a dozen photos of people sleeping on chairs and or floors at the Dubai airport.

The sight of people snoozing in an international airport is, let’s be honest, not that uncommon. Flights are delayed or cancelled all the time. What made Frith’s photos so interesting was that many of the people were sleeping beneath widescreen plasma televisions carrying chest beating brand messages from the airport authority.

“It struck me while departing through the airport,” wrote Frith, “that while it's all fine and good to have a decent monologue with customers beating our brand chests, the whole point about the 21st century marketing and Web 2.0/Digital dialogue is that if brands aren't able to shift into that dialogue mode when circumstances demand, then they end up losing so much of their effort.

If any brand or agency isn't talking about ways to open up a meaningful dialogue with their customers during the inevitable part of life when things don't go according to plan, then they are very simply wasting money and inevitably pissing off people.

I've got 20 ideas in my head for how the Dubai airport authority could win over everyone of the carpet sleepers I saw that night, but you can rest assured that filling those plasma screens with more chest beating 'hub of the world' content is way more important.

Making profits isn't as hard as it made out to be,” says Frith. “Losing customer loyalty and the money that goes with it is even easier.”


Brand Experience

Punk Planning

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

July 08 - Generation V

An entirely new generation of people has been born. This generation is not defined by age, gender or social standing, but by their use of digital media channels. Adam Sarner, principal analyst at Gartner, has dubbed this disparate group of individuals Generation V.

In a recent interview with Sarner described Generation V as a segment of the population “empowered by the democratisation of technology and new means of communication.”

According to Sarner, “Gen V have an increasing preference toward the use of digital media channels to discover information, build knowledge and share insights." Which sounds good, but what does he mean exactly?

In essence, Sarner is talking about people who maintain an online profile of some sort “To communicate across the boundaries of time and geography, create and distribute original content, and/or collaborate with one another.”

As a fortysomething blogger, and regular contributor to a variety of online discussions and conversations, I guess that makes me a member of Gen V.

Strangely, at least in my eyes, many of the young people looking to break into the advertising and marketing industries are not part of this generation. Sure they’re regular users of the likes of Facebook and MySpace, but how many uni students are dabbling in Social Media?

Greg Verdino, from US based new marketing company Crayon, had this to say about students he’d met whilst giving talks on Social Media at several American universities:

“Many weren't even aware of blogging and podcasting; even fewer were actually doing one or the other themselves. I was teaching them about what they are, how and why people use them, and where they may be going over the coming decade or two.

Were these students typical of their (age-based) generation? I have no idea. But given that we're talking about several different groups of students at several different well known universities, I suspect they are not exceptions to the rule.”

Of course there are plenty of kids out there with the smarts to not only get involved with social media, but also the ability to use it to help them in their career. In fact, the idea for the column came from a couple of blog posts and emails that I exchanged with young Aussie marketer and Monash Uni student, Julian Cole.

Julian is one of a handful of students at Monash who actively write about and critique marketing and advertising. One of his fellow students, 18 year old Zac Martin, is a regular commenter on my blog. I’m sure there are many others. If you’re a student blogger, why not send me an email?

During my brief tenure on the teaching staff at RMIT University, I introduced advertising students to the idea of using a blog to help you get your first job. Only a handful of them maintained their blogs for more than a few months, but I’m pleased to say that those that did have all since gained employment.

Over in the UK, there are quite a few wannabe advertising creatives who blog. These blogs make for an interesting read, as the kids document the trials and tribulations of trying to secure a job in the toughest ad market in the world.

My personal favourite is Gwen Yip, a Hong Kong native who documents each and every day of her London job search with cute little drawings of the people she meets and the situations she finds her self in. It’s always worth a visit.

The most brazen use of digital media to get noticed in the advertising industry belongs to Sam Ismail, who has set a new standard for creativity and initiative in getting noticed to get a job.

Sam, like many young hopefuls, had his interest tweaked by an ad for an internship at Saatchi & Saatchi in London. The headline on the ad read; Turn this poster into a job.

Unlike all the other kids who saw the ad, Sam didn’t start dreaming up advertising concepts. Instead he came up with a big idea. A really big idea. He listed the internship on eBay.

He then seeded his idea, by leaving comments on advertising and blogs about Saatchi offering a job to the highest bidder in an eBay auction.

As you can imagine, this stunt got people talking. So much so, that if you do a search for it on Google, you’ll find over 8,000 page references.

Campaign magazine contacted Saatchis about the auction, so Ismail got in touch with the editor and told them what he had done. Next thing he knew, he got a phone call from a Saatchi legal eagle threatening to sue him!

Suffice to say the story has a happy ending. Sam met dozens of influential people in the industry. He got noticed and talked about. And most importantly he landed himself a job. Proof, if it was needed, that Generation V are the future of our industry.


Greg Verdino

Gwen Yip

Julian Cole

Sam Ismail

Sunday, June 1, 2008

June 08 - The future?

Many years ago I was offered a job at a direct marketing agency. Even though the agency in question was part of a top five global advertising group I turned the job down. I just couldn’t see myself stuffing envelopes for the rest of my career.

The creative director wouldn’t take no for an answer. A Californian, with a striking resemblance to the singer songwriter Jackson Brown, he spoke to me about the arrival of what was then known as the information superhighway.

He lured me into the job with his predictions of the impending dominance of digital as the primary medium for consumer communication. For him, direct was not about envelopes and letters, it was about engaging people one to one and digital would revolutionise the way brands did this.

Suffice to say I was swayed by his vision and started work a couple of weeks later. Sadly, many of our clients at that time didn’t share his enthusiasm for all things digital. They saw the internet as a bit of a fad, something of minority interest at best.

Recently I stumbled across an unintentionally hilarious article on the internet, from a 1995 issue of Newsweek magazine. Its author, Clifford Stoll, also saw the internet as little more than an over hyped fad.

What follows are a couple of excerpts from what Stoll had to say in his Newsweek piece entitled; The internet? Bah! Why cyberspace isn’t, and never will be, nirvana.

“Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic. Baloney”

He didn’t stop there.

“Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we'll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the internet. Uh, sure.

Then there are those pushing computers in schools. We're told that multimedia will make schoolwork easy and fun. Who needs teachers when you've got computer-aided education? Bah.”

As we all know, everything that Clifford Stoll derided as hype back in ’95 has since become a reality. The way we work, communicate and consume has been radically altered by digital technology.

Advertising agencies however, have changed relatively little since that time. Sure everyone has a computer on their desk. Clients view word docs and PDFs via email rather than at meetings, but the day to day nature of the advertising agency is pretty much as it was in David Ogilvy’s heyday.

Iain Tait, from the British digital hotshop Poke, wrote a great post on his blog Crackunit recently, where he asked when we were going to see a truly next generation agency.

“There’s new agencies starting every week,” said Iain. “Most of these new shops are claiming to be some kind of new thing. But if you’re trying to hire people who work in other agencies (media, digital, design, whatever), the danger is that you’re going to end up with just another variant of an agency.”

In Iain Tait’s eyes, most of these new agencies seem to be built on well understood principles with well understood types of people working for them. For me, the term ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ springs to mind.

So how does Iain see the version 2.0 agency?

“Hire some digital natives. People like me who think that digital is ‘a thing’ are old-school. We might be able to help get you through the next few years, but unless we become less in awe of a bunch of computery things, we could end up making ourselves obsolete.”

To put that statement in perspective, consider this; Iain’s agency Poke was last year voted #2 digital agency in the UK. They had two pieces of work in the UK’s top ten digital campaigns. And Tait himself was ranked as one of Britain’s top ten digital talents.

Having watched a TV show on the golden age of British advertising, Tait noticed that, “The agencies who were producing great work were almost unquestionable.” So where, he asks, “Can you command a position of unquestioned god-like genius?”

In Iain’s mind, advertising and marketing would definitely not be at the top of the list.

Wow! The agency of the future wouldn’t have advertising or marketing as its primary reason for being. So what would this next generation of agency do?

I’d like to hope it would fulfill the vision of my old creative director, and produce great ideas and thinking that engages people rather than interrupting, shouting at or annoying them.

Here’s to the future.


Iain Tait


Clifford Stoll’s Newsweek article

Monday, April 28, 2008

May 08 - Picture this

I was recently asked to give a presentation to students studying professional writing for their degree at Melbourne University. The topic was copywriting for digital media.

I’ve held many roles in the advertising industry, but copywriting is where I started, and it’s still something I love to do.

Now, as any half decent copywriter will tell you, there’s a lot more to the job than simply writing copy. Ideas, concepts, problem solving; these are all part and parcel of the copywriters role.

So rather simply than focus on writing for my student talk, I developed a presentation using great examples of visual thinking. I wanted to show them there was more to advertising online than bloody banner ads.

My talk about copywriting ended up featuring lots of video, great use of emotion and humour, plenty of great writing and yet very few words. I suspect this was because the rapid growth of high speed broadband, use of Flash technology and the popularity of sites such as YouTube, have changed the web from a primarily text based medium.

Recently in the USA, Gary Schenk, CEO of image library Corbis, made a pronouncement that images will eventually supplant text in the online media.

Given that Schenk is head of an image library, his viewpoint is probably biased, which is why Jim Morris took him to task on his blog, Advertising for Peanuts.

“I find this both silly and scary,” wrote Jim, “a real hackle-raiser. Mr. Schenk articulates an across-the-board dismissal of language as some old school artifact or vestige of a bygone era.”

He went on to say, “It's one thing to point out the obvious, that the web is becoming and will continue to become more visually interesting. But it’s an entirely different thing to proclaim, as Mr. Schenk does, that imagery alone can send a powerful message.”

Like Jim Morris, I also think Schenk got a bit carried away. Images are important, there’s no denying that, but the power of language could never be replaced by a collection of pictures.

“The stock images and footage that Mr. Schenk hawks,” argues Morris, “regardless of how rich, compelling, provocative, beautiful, true or cool they may be, must always, by their nature, be relegated to the role of handmaiden to language.”

Morris closes his blog post with this insightful summation; “As visually oriented as advertising communication may become, it is only via language that it can be made to convey, not just some meaning, but the very specific meaning intended by the advertiser.”

The Dove campaign for real beauty is a great example of the kind of thinking that Jim Morris is talking about. The images used in the campaign would be little more than nice photos of women without the concept of ‘real beauty’ to give the images a context.

The agency behind the Dove campaign is Ogilvy. Which brings me to a great example of the power of words and language in advertising that I discovered on the blog Brentter - an old house ad for Ogilvy.

“It is definitely something that you don’t see too often these days, especially in long-form copy.” wrote Brent Terrazas from Brentter, “Pearls of wisdom from some of advertising’s best.”

The ad in question is definitely something of a rarity these days. It’s all copy, with not a single picture to be seen. If it ran in this magazine today, the headline would still prove hard to ignore; How to create that advertising that sells.

Over the course of a whopping 1,909 words the ad goes through a selections of ways to improve the effectiveness of your advertising, all of them, of course, used and recommended by Ogilvy.

Here’s one gem that I think is worth considering, given Gary Schenk’s comment on the death of copy; “Story appeal. The more of it you inject into your visual, the more people will look at your advertisement.”

Even though the Ogilvy ad recognises the importance of the visual, it doesn’t do it at the expense of copy, proudly declaring, “People read copy.”

What the writer, yes writer, of the Ogilvy ad recognises though, is the one thing that Gary Schenk has overlooked in his simplistic argument – the power of the idea.

“Unless your advertising is built on a big idea it will pass like a ship in the night. It takes a big idea to jolt the consumer out of indifference. To get noticed.”

The ad goes on to say, “ Big ideas are usually simple ideas. But big simple ideas are not easy to come by. They require genius and midnight oil.”

Libraries and bookshops are filled with evidence of this genius. Somehow I don’t think they, or the internet, are going to be replaced with a collection of stock photography any time soon.


Advertising for Peanuts


Sunday, March 30, 2008

April 08 - Death of the agency?

A couple of weeks ago I attended a presentation from a company that specialised in content. Yes content. Now I don’t know about you, but if there’s one buzzword I’d like to put a stop to, it’s content. It’s such a nothing kind of word.

You never hear TV channels advertising their new and upcoming shows as content. They talk about programmes, premieres or must watch, anything to get you excited about their offering. Excitement, I think, is what’s missing when people use terms like content.

Suffice to say, there was plenty of excitement in the presentation I was at. The so called content was actually pretty interesting, way more so than the term content would have you believe.

I had a bit of spare time when I got back to the office, so I decided to see what the blogosphere had to say about content. My first port of call was The Kaiser Edition, where Marcus Brown and his cohorts had recently set people talking with a provocative post entitled “Content will kill your agency.”

“I sense an argument brewing,” wrote Marcus, “but that’s ok. We can have an argument and chew things over. No one gets hurt. I’ve been thinking about this for a while.” His basic idea is that the current agency model and the work that they do, is doomed. Unless, he says, “Your agency starts creating content.”

To tell you the truth I was taken aback by what Marcus had to say. Which took me by surprise to be honest, given I’ve been banging on for years about how agencies need to start doing more than just making ads.

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a 30 second TV ad actually a piece of content? If it is, and I believe it is, then what is this mythical agency killing content that Marcus is talking about?

“The kind of content that will kill your agency,” says Marcus, “happens without a brief - nobody has told you or the so called business development people in your agency that they would like to have a specific piece of content.”

Sounds a bit like marketing anarchy to me. A bunch of people dreaming up stuff with no strategy or direction, which they then on-sell to a client. And if the client doesn’t like it, they simply take it elsewhere and try their luck all over again.

The more I thought about it, the more Marcus’ theory had me scratching my head. Then he went and turned the whole argument upside down with this;

“Every agency, regardless of size, is capable of producing content that would challenge anything that is currently on the market; whether that be film, television, literature, online, radio, games or events.”

No argument from me there, but how many marketing people are actually looking for their agency to bring them ideas for TV shows, a computer game or some other non-measurable event?

German blogger Sebastian Oehme left an insightful comment on Marcus’ post. In it he points the finger not at agencies, but marketers. “They are afraid of risks,” he says, “and only trust the safe ways given by market research.” He doesn’t stop there;

“Most brands have nothing to say anymore and don’t invent products that are loved by people. They care only about money, market share and growth. They call their customers a target group, not people.”

After reading Sebastian’s comment I clicked on a link to another content related post by Marcus. In it he clarified his position on content. “It will kill your agency because nobody is telling you what to do and you won’t have a mandate to do it.”

Seems like Marcus and I kind of agree. If marketing execs are not looking for their agency to develop and present non-advertising ideas to them, how does an agency get their client to support, fund and create them?

“You will have to work it all out for yourselves,” says Marcus. “You will have to fight harder for it, harder than you fight for stuff now. It will kill your agency because it’s not advertising, at least not as we know it today.”

Respected Sydney blogger, Gavin Heaton, has also weighed into the content debate. I’ll leave you with his thoughts;

“We have all become too focused on delivering to briefs at the expense of true innovation. The art of advertising is dying in our hands, and along with it, the business models around which agencies have flourished.

Content creation is the last bastion of creative resilience that is left to us. Everything else we have conceded to the accountants, consultants and digital folks hungry for growth and glamour. Now give me a drink, I am toasting the rising sea.”


The Kaiser Edition

Sebastian Oehme

Gavin Heaton

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

March 08 - Agency Blogs

One of the great things about being a consultant, is that your opinion is your own, and you’re free to express it as and when you see fit. This is especially true when it comes to blogging.

Recently I took up an irresistible offer of to join the team at Wunderman in Melbourne. Even though the job in question was a terrific opportunity for me, I had to think long and hard about the offer before making a decision.

And what do you think it was that was holding me back?

Believe it or not it was my blog. Well actually my ability to freely express my opinion on the blog to be precise. Luckily Wunderman are keen for me to continue ranting and rambling on my own little slice of the internet.

Not only that, they were also keen for me to help them get a corporate blog off the ground. Which is what I’ve been working on for the last few days.

As part of my research for the Wunderman blog I spent time searching, reading and commenting on a variety of advertising agency blogs. As you can imagine, my learning from other agency blogs has informed our fledgling blog, which will be launching shortly.

To be honest with you, there really aren’t that many agency blogs out there in the blogosphere. And those that are often come with the caveat that the opinions expressed on the blog are the opinions of the writer or contributor, not the agency.

What a cop out! In the age of social media, agencies have to be brave enough to join the conversation, regardless of whether the talk is good, bad or indifferent. Having said that, there are some good agency blogs that are well worth adding to your RSS feed. Here are a few of my favourites:

Fruits of the imagination is the blog of Leo Burnett in Toronto. I’m recommending this blog based on reputation rather than current posts. Why? Because the driving force behind it, strategy planner Jason Oke, left the agency at the end of the year.

Postings have become less frequent since Oke’s departure, however at the start of the year they posted their mission for the blog in 2008. I’m hoping that this was written by someone with their tongue wedged firmly in their cheek.

“This is my promise to post more than it is an actual post. For 2008 it's about easing into things slowly. We will continue to monitor and contribute to some of the major industry and cultural debates including MySpace vs Facebook and bottled vs tap water.”

Love is a blog that I love from a Manchester agency called Love. In fact, you could say the Love blog is everything an agency blog should be. It’s fun, friendly, and the personality of the agency and its people comes shining through in every post.

My favourite was when they shared news of their lack of success in a pitch. Here’s what they had to say;

“Our digital geniuses put together a brilliant pitch to re-design the Crown paint website and overhaul their general digital strategy. It was one of those pitches that couldn’t have gone better on the day. It was also really enjoyable to present.

We were really proud of the work and the Crown clients seemed impressed with our understanding of their brand and the issues it faces. But sadly, after waiting nervously for a couple of weeks for the result, we found out we lost out to Code. Shame.

Well done to Code, who consolidated their relationship with Crown after doing various projects with them. We’d like to think we pushed you all the way and look forward to taking you on in a few more ‘head-to-heads’ next year.”

Strawberry Frog are one of the hottest agencies in the world at the moment. Their blog is always worth a look. They recently posted an interview with their new MD, Mike Lanzi. I think it gives a great insight into what makes them tick.

“The place is doing pretty darn well. The question is how do we take it to the next level, especially when clients are going to ask themselves more than ever whether their agency is really worth all the cost and bureaucracy.

The key is strategic and creative brilliance. We are investing in the best strategic thinkers in the business, and will build the agency by attracting the best seasoned talent in this space.”

Seasoned talent! Now that’s not a term you hear much in adland these days. How refreshing to hear it used by an up and coming agency, that’s made a name for itself by doing things differently.

And doing things differently is, I feel, what sets a good agency blog apart from your traditional toothless corporate web presence.


Fruits of the imagination


Strawberry Frog

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Feb 08 - Transmedia

Just before Christmas I was involved in an inter-disciplinary creative workshop for one of my clients. Over the course of two days we transformed an idea that had been developed for television into a veritable smorgasbord of concepts for all manner of media channels.

What excited me most about many of the ideas that came out of the workshop, was that they required interaction and involvement from segments of the target market. In essence, the passionate consumer as brand advocate was a key element of the campaign.

Another interesting feature of our campaign was that many of the elements were for the creation of interest in the campaign itself, rather than the product. As such we would have multiple storylines existing independent of each other, with influential target groups filling in the gaps.

The idea of a storyline unfolding across several platforms is obviously nothing new, in fact it was discussed at length last year in a blog post called Transmedia Planning by Faris Yakob from the London office of Naked.

In his post Faris acknowledges the book Convergence Culture, by Henry Jenkins from (MIT) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as “Required reading for anyone with an interest with how the relationship between consumers and media is changing.”

“Transmedia storytelling,” says Jenkins, “drives the formation of knowledge communities - communities that share information – and triggers word of mouth.”

Faris has taken the thinking behind Jenkins’ idea and applied it to advertising. “Transmedia planning would be an evolving non-linear brand narrative,” he writes, “where different channels could be used to communicate self-contained elements of the brand narrative.

According to Faris, these elements, “Would build to create a larger brand world, where consumers pull different parts of the story together themselves. The beauty of this is that it is designed to generate brand communities, as consumers come together to share elements of the narrative. It has a word of mouth driver built in.”

When I first read about Faris’s idea of transmedia planning I brushed it aside as just a variation on the well worn path of media neutral planning. When I read his blog post however, I saw it was much richer in potential than that.

In a media neutral plan, the ‘idea’ is always at the centre. Much like our pre-Christmas workshop, where we took an idea that had been developed for television and executed it across a variety of other media.

Transmedia planning has brand communities at its heart, with different media platforms delivering parts of the story to members of different communities, who then share this information with each other through word-of-mouth.

To say that the idea of transmedia planning has generated interest in the blogosphere is something of an understatement. At the time of writing, I did a Google search for the term which returned over 200,000 results. And yet the term didn’t exist until Faris coined it.

Of course for every new believer like me, there’s sure to be a skeptic too. In this case it was Giles Rhys Jones from Ogilvy London. Writing on his blog Interactive Marketing Trends, Rhys Jones penned one of the headlines of the year – Transmedia Planning My Arse.

“Ok, so what is the score with all the hype surrounding transmedia planning?” asked Rhys Jones. “Isn't that 360 planning: a brand idea at the centre delivered across multiple channels.” He offers the Dove ‘campaign for real beauty’ as a good example of this.

“Each element plays an important and complimentary part but each also exists in its own right, stimulating thought and conversation from your collective brand audience.”

Obviously Faris and Giles, who are both highly respected advertising thinkers, are agreeing to disagree, with both of them seemingly talking about pretty much the same thing only with a different name.

“Transmedia planning is surely a case of the emperors new clothes,” argues Giles Rhys Jones. “The 360 model ain’t broke, just they way that people have been deploying it.”

Commenting on Rhys Jones post, J. Caddell offers up the following; “Reminds me when ‘Integrated Marketing’ was the buzz word two years ago. The idea isn't new, it's just another assault on the traditional marketing model that those with the budgets and most to risk clutch to with false security.”

He then sums up his comment with a touch of provocation. “Change will happen once the old model (i.e.: Ogilvy on Advertising) is officially declared dead. Until then keep up the good fight.”

It seems to me that Caddell may well have unearthed the reason why Faris’s transmedia planning idea has generated such debate on advertising and marketing blogs – it’s a new way of doing things. Something the advertising industry supposedly thrives on and yet is so often slow to embrace.

Much like its belated acceptance of the importance of digital media as a communications channel which, not coincidently, also lies at the very heart of transmedia planning.

Stop by and visit:

Faris Yakob

Giles Rhys Jones

Transmedia Squidoo