Monday 29 December 2008

Part II

Rob Campbell who is unquestionably Asia's best planner brought my attention in the comments of my last post to the presentation he did at the PSFK Trends Conference in Singapore. On rereading it, I think it deserves reposting here.
Rob and I share many values so there's a lot of information osmosis that goes on, which is my smart arse way of saying I nick all his ideas and don't look to shabby as a result of it. In any case I think what makes the presentation important is that unlike my reputation for struggling to conceal any impatience with the gravy train called 20th century advertising business, Rob and the Cynic gang actually play at a very senior level in the industry and across many interesting dimensions. Their latest mission impossible because they like meaty challenges is Sunshine with M&C Saatchi, and you mark my words. M&C are on the ascendant as a result.

If there are any client side people reading this, the crucial point is that Rob is one of the handful of very senior and highly accomplished ad men in the business who is saying what he thinks and believes publicly; as the presentation reveals candidly.

Most senior advertising people I know only admit it's a gravy train privately. Three in the last two weeks. That's just here in Thailand although they aren't necessarily based here.

So here it is below and I think it conveys one more time that our business is possibly on the verge of the most exciting reincarnation since the introducton of television and if your agency aren't talking about the business in this way, if they aren't grabbing you by the lapels and trying to explain that there are new ways of solving old problems, the question you may need to ask if them is why?

Thursday 18 December 2008

Calling All Graphic Designers

I've been getting restless with my blog design for some months now. It's always been a bit of a sandbox, meaning I like to experiment with new stuff, and I intend to add new widgets as and when I think they could be interesting.
There's a kind of colour code. The background is black, the type is greyish and I use a bit of green to highlight some bits and pieces but that only really matters when I play with the colour palette on the widgets. But I'm bored of the look now and was intending to give it a facelift.

However it strikes me that there are much better designers out there than I, and I'd like to give you the chance to redesign it. The deal is that in return for making this blog look ship shape, maybe even tasteful, you (the designer) get to have your creds on it day in and day out and a link to your website.
I'm not expecting an avalanch of people to get in touch, but if there's only one, then we probably need to have have some to and fro about details, in case say the widgets need new colours, but if there's a few of you interested in having a crack at it, then it's a straight forward pitch.

Does that sound fair?

If not the comments are always a good place to chip in on how we could do it. Now that I've put my neck out, I expect a resounding silence to ensue and a few hours of tinkering with Blogger templates on my own.
I'd be well chuffed if someone could inject some style and substance into the design. The best idea I've seen recently is Peggy's blog which doesn't even have a title. I like that mininimal approach, plus I don't think anyone else has done it. Anyway, there are no restrictions. Everything can go if it's for the right reason. It would also be a pretty good showcase for the winners talents.

That's all I can guarantee.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

More Black Swan

Y'all know my appreciation for Taleb's interpretation of the world. There's nothing new here for me but it might be of interest to those who haven't come across him yet.

Via Smashing Telly

Thursday 11 December 2008

Think Tank

You've all revealed a huge weakness for bias and voted my Post Party Sweet Spot as post of the month over at Neil's. I think that and the the chance to display the badge along with the noble company from previous months is pretty much the highest honour I'd could hope to garner off the net. Peer recognition is lovely, warm and generous. I'm very grateful to  all of you who voted, really I am.

I think Neil is doing an outstanding job making sure we pay attention to what's out there.

I guess the Milky Bars are on me.


You may have noticed the new panel I'm sporting on the side of this blog called Google Friend Connect. Well that's there because I've been "Whitelisted" by Google who think I'm a big enough social meeja kahuna to invite me on board.

Yeah, check me out! *throws meaningless gang signs*

So if I haven't spammed the life out of you yet by joining Plaxo (who've allied with Google) and Google Friend Connect, don't feel shy to click on something over there, and join in because it's not like you actually have to really like me loads and loads to be my fwend.

I'm particularly interested in the open social platform as it develops and hey you get to come along for the ride too. Carrying our own social network data around has to be the future for some sort of transactional value relationships with the world of commerce and brands. It's pretty radical but will make a lot of sense when giving permission for interruptive or distractive marketing communications as the quid pro quo for utility or content.

Well something like that anyway, but the reason for this post is also to see if I've managed to get the Disqus comment system finally integrated. The last attempt was a template and commenting form disaster. And now that even Craig, Peggy and Eaon are Disqus'd up I feel I'm on the back foot for my geek creds.

I'd be most appreciative if one or two of you could attempt a comment but don't try too hard as I've probably buggered it up and will have to reinstall that scary .xml file now lurking on my desktop to get back to normal.

In the meantime here's a picture of Sam who has joined forces with Eaon at Geronimo which is where he's going to kick ass in the marketing communications industry. Yesterday on Skype, I made him swear on the baby Jesus and U.S. Supreme court justices not to release a certain "sensitive" file I've graciously shared with him but I have given him permission to show you the screen if you're ever around. Word is bond Sam!

On a more sober note, thanks all of you for the positive response to yesterday's post. I'll respond more fully but I'm really pleased that I can kind of throw that stuff out there and not be cut down in flames. The motivation for writing it was to hopefully encourage the idea of a back up plan. If that has worked then I'm a happy camper :)

Wednesday 10 December 2008

The soil will be much richer for the ashes.....


Take a good look around you. The operating system you’re using, the age of your computer, the furnishings, the cell phone you’re using, the clothes you’re wearing, even the watch strapped to your wrist or the cup of “four bucks” frappe/latte/cino number you’ve ordered in the coffee shop. Soak in all the little details of 21st century living and try and hold that image, because quite frankly I don’t think things are ever going to be the same again you see, because the ultimate green shopper is an oxymoron. The ultimate green shopper doesn't shop. That's the sick end of marketing.
We’ll probably never have as much new stuff around us as we are looking at now. It’s easy to become conditioned by new stuff, even easier to be dissatisfied with it all, wanting ever newer and more complex gadgets.

The financial meltdown that I first talked about over here hasn’t even really properly kicked off. As I understand it from the huge amount of reading I’ve been doing, it took four whole years for the depression to reach it’s full depth. I doubt if this one will take so long but let’s assume it’s three times as fast for the sake of arbitrary guessing because that is after all what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to guess what and when. I think I’ll get the times more wrong than the what.

My first attempts at trying to visualise the near future ended up with a sort of feeling that the developed world such as the United States and the E.U. would take more of a hit than the developing world, and that stands to reason doesn’t it? The lower the per capita GDP, the less the potential fall in the standard of living.

The bigger they are the harder they fall so to speak.

But having spent some time looking at the China figures, there’s a whole world of pain there too, that takes on a different dimension because of the sheer scale of the numbers. 20 million migrant workers already back on the farms and changing the demographics probably forever. It really is a hell of a mess whatever way we cut the figures.

The nasty pill to swallow is the potential for the food chain to break down. We’ve already seen an institution like Woolworths hit the floor and yet that’s just a taste of where it’s heading. Woolworths was always like the sick puppy on the edge of the pack that failed to make money in the good times when money was abundant, and thus is first to go as money liquidity tightens. Who is next? National Express coaches? Debenhams? 3 mobile phone network? Which business entity (which brand) has been running on vapours during the good years? Those are the people who are likely to bow out first. But it’s worse than that isn’t it? Because if someone who moves or distributes food about takes a hit from liquidity problems then that’s the end of very specific foodstuffs in our supermarkets. Some are talking about the need for growing local food again; turning gardens into allotments - which is ironic given the sweet spot thing I talked about and how local foods are the least carbon intensive. So who is the weakest supermarket in the UK these days? Is it Safeway? Does Safeway even still exist? It’s been some years since I looked at UK supermarkets but the point is still the same. Who is the weakest in the pack? Local food folks. Read or listen to Rushkoff or Paterson if it’s a smarter mind than mine you seek.

Anyway there is the worst of it, those links are some of the really smart people out there (Rushkoff is my new Daddy!) who are capable of making the meta leap over the information that I would take an age to digest and the suggestion that they conclude upon is the likelihood of a loss of confidence in traditional paper money, and a potential return of local currencies (barter is always good too, barter is very good). They also suggest the end of retail or put another way the end of abundance.

I think that seems a fair suggestion to make.

I always had a few problems with the ‘free’ economy, and that was mainly because it could only be accessed by the wealthy participants. It’s not really FREE is it if only we can access it and a vast amount of people in the world who live on a dollar a day have no access to it at all? That’s not free, that’s called privileged isn’t it? I am, and so are you if you’re reading this. We're privileged and don't you forget it.

I guess the 'free economy' or model is starting to look a bit like irrational exuberance when all is said and done. Nothing is for free isn't it? Not even if those transistors that are infinitely able to make themselves faster or smaller. The point is you can’t eat transistors. Just a thought folks. Try living off Moore’s law if you’re hungry.

So if we’re moving from the age of abundance to an age of scarcity what impact does that have on marketing communications? Well given the paucity of marketing communications on Red Square in Moscow during the 80’s, or on Tiananmen Square in Beijing today (out of courtesy) or across the entire length of North Korea I’d say that in an age of scarcity not abundance the need for marketing communications is drastically reduced. I don’t know how much is left. I do know that whatever is left will be fought for, and highly competitive. It will probably be damm good too. I just don’t know how much of the pie is left after the party is over and all that is left is an almost immeasurable canyon of debt. For that is all there is left it seems. Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan will be OK. They did well out of the last great depression didn’t they?

As far as I can figure out the only ‘rewire our economies’ ideas that those at the Treasury and at the Fed are capable of coming up with work along the lines of consumption will get us out of this mess. Can you believe that? Do you really believe that?

This is gross intellectual fraud isn’t it? Didn’t excess consumption put us in this mess in the first place? I keep going back to a comment I read on Naked Capitalism; that the soil will be much richer for the ashes and yet it seems that the stateside Wall Street and Whitehouse folk are hell bent on denial that we’re even on fire, all the while fueling the flames with more and more borrowed money to put off the impending collapse of the financial system. Yet isn’t that the logical conclusion. Shouldn’t the system collapse before new shoots of growth emerge? The soil will be much richer for the ashes.....remember that.

Probably a lot of you are thinking this is unnecessarily gloomy, yet I’m not unhappy. I’m more optimistic about the future than at any other time in my life, in a perverse kind of way.

I know that all those with businesses and mortgages or negative equity in property or worthless shares or credit card bills up to their eyeballs will be very reluctant to read a post of this nature, and truthfully I’m no seer or a prophet. But what I am able to do that most it seems are really really reluctant to engage with, is play with the notion that things really aren’t good at all this time and to take those arguments to the logical conclusion. Most it seems would prefer not to ‘go there’. I’m able to, for reasons of planning, foresight and an ounce of luck.

I think we just saw the end of the renaissance that began in the middle ages. I think it finally is coming to an end. I think we have a new renaissance around the corner and just like the last we’re also emerging from the drudgery of a black death or plague that has inflicted and is yet to inflict more misery everywhere. A selfish age at the end wasn’t it?

I don’t think advertising is that important to me at the moment. I want to see the carnage before I go into how socialist media is likely to be part of the solution. We’re all in it together after all.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Clay Parker Jones

The Interwebs
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: hoffman_york web_design)

If it all seems a bit complicated for you then it's 20th century marketing that has probably messed you up. This is a sweet but precise presentation from Clay Parker Jones

Sunday 30 November 2008

Copy Loey!!

Reminds me of this award winning ad a bit. (The above is Coca-cola's Minute Maid) on the subway at Silom Station in Bangkok.

More over here.

Thursday 27 November 2008


I went to Gaysorn Plaza, a luxury shopping mall in Bangkok today before having a wonderful lunch with Tim who generously gave me some time and thoughts on a simulacra post that I want to write at some point - he's massively brainy like that. Tim is a writer who also does restaurant reviews when not contributing to The Guardian, The Bangkok Post, writing a book or blogging over here, and it was toptastic to have a humungus steak and a charmingly insolent bottle of red which for professional reasons I was largely forced to polish off on my own.

I was struck how empty Gaysorn Plaza was. The luxury brands are commencing a world of pain over the next five to ten years and I think it's safe to say that the awful moniker of masstige brands may finally be buried along with all the other marketing hubris we inflated ourselves on in the bubbled up economy.

I was however delighted to see a few early birds taking a flyer and doing 40% discount sales which is unheard of in the run up to Christmas (widely celebrated in this Buddhist country - not the day - the festive season) but even more pleased to see that one brand has taken an interesting approach to the way that they advertise a sale.

Good recessionary thinking. Think up not down.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Mea Culpa

This post is over a year late but reading Scamp's blog has prompted me to get on and do the right thing. You may remember (if there’s any of you left) that I was doing some groups around the UK last summer in 2007 that I wrote about here. It was on my birthday and I remember it well, not because it was 'my day' which matters little to me given how much I’ve just generally celebrated life, but because a few of you called me in Edinburgh to wish me happy birthday and I realised that my blogging friends were just as important if not more important than the ones I’d met in a different order of media. We certainly stay in touch much more frequently. Maybe email decimated the urge to keep contact and blogging added some context to communication. That's another post. A good one too.

In any case many of you asked what work I was doing and who for. I don’t mind sharing because it’s time to wind the clock back a little and go over what for me ended up being a kind of conflict of interest. Tell the client the truth or just the agency and let the agency handle it. The former is always more costly both personally and professional, and is yet the right thing to do.

My first recommendation when seeing the brief was that NCH (formerly National Children’s Homes) were blowing a lot of money on a name change that would not be a return on investment - and that’s what I told the agency I was employed by. But it’s a little more complex than that as I discovered more each day. Unlike Barnardos who have a much higher profile, NCH are a fantastically interesting charity that work very closely with government to provide more than just homes to children; opportunities to reenter education, learn skills they need to find work as well as all the other headline grabbing work that childrens charities do, including fostering. NCH felt that the 'Homes' in their abbreviation was misleading as that was not what they really did and this prompted the name change. When dealing with government funds it’s important that the bureaucrats have a clear idea what the millions upon millions of pounds are for but that was a technical issue which I gave some recommendations on.

The difficulty of the problem was that when I turned up to present my findings to the charity I tried to convey to them that the research methodology was inappropriate for young delinquents. I was working from a discussion guide and stimulus material that was not of my own making but as I was passed the baton only the night before flying to Glasgow I had little choice but to run with it and frankly I was also presenting pro bono because I had missed one of the flights to Scotland and felt guilty about losing charity money.

In any case the findings were still fascinating and I really loved discovering the complexity of charitable issues when collaborating with government as well as learning that practically all the cool ‘head down’ get on with it people were strongly anti brand. They felt that consumerism drove a lot of the dissatisfaction that the neglected kids and their families felt with their lives.

However they all loved taking the kids to McDonalds which is a real treat for deprived children in Scotland. So there’s the context for contradiction. There’s always a context. Everything is contextual.

So I made the mistake of being blunt about my findings. One of the groups was with tagged offenders in the rougher parts of Glasgow where opportunities are slim and role models few and far between. I remember doing the group so well because the young lads were some of the trickiest people I’ve had to coax some meaning out of. They were sullen and moody but really this masked their insecurity at having some fella from London tip up and embrace their world much more quickly than they could mine. In difficult situations I like to invite the respondents to ask me any questions they like, so that I can dispel any fears they may have of looking silly when replying or just to make them more comfortable. Try as hard as I could, I couldn’t get anything out of the lads apart from one who as the leader, seemed obliged to say something. The truth was that they were emotionally immature and intellectually starved so asking them about the brand dimensions of car or financial services brands that advertised on the telly was a waste of time. I got the good stuff out of them on McDonalds and Nike and Carling Beer or Football clubs as brands but nothing that really contributed to NCH’s needs.

When presenting to the Board of NCH I made the fatal mistake of describing the boys in the Glasgow group as ‘not the sharpest tools in the box’. What I was trying to say was that it was pointless asking them for their opinions (based on similar findings from a group of girls in the hills of former coal mining communities in Wales). I was suggesting they pay attention to what and how they researched. In short how not to waste valuable money.

The committee went nuts on me and as I was there trying to tell them the work was not necessarily right, the methodology wasn’t right and that there was a huge potential to attach so much narrative and meaning around NCH (They drip with history and intersting complexity) that positioned the charity appropriately - in my view.

In any case I took offense that one overly politically correct member of the committee was losing sight of the wood for the trees and I wrapped up my presentation promptly and left it to the agency to take over the the disappointing findings I had conveyed.

I gave it a lot of thought over the next months. I thought to myself “what an idiot” that guy was for losing sight of what it was all about, over the use of what I thought was politically correct language. I think he wanted me to use ‘intellectually deprived” or something instead of the unsharp tool metaphor.

However it suddenly occurred to me one day that my own sister had taught me the power of unkind words. My sister has walking difficulties from birth, and not so long back, she called to tell me that her condition was Celebral Palsy. I had always grown up with my sister and swhat I thought was some strange condition that disabled her from walking properly, which we always thought was just some variant of spastic disability; which is a general word for a problem between the brain and muscle control. However, listening to my sister I realised that there was a proper name for it. But why did she want to give it a name now, so much later in life, surely it didn’t change anything, it sounded like there was no way it would have ever helped giving it a different name?

Well I was wrong wasn’t I. Because when she called me up all those years later, and explained to me the condition that she had, I realised all those years of with her condition referred to as spastic had been deeply painful and the name change of The Spastic Society to SCOPE (something I argued had lost it resonance) was in fact very appropriate. Sometimes hard hitting can be a little too hard hitting.

To deprived people and actually people in general, words can be very hurtful, so in a flash it dawned on me that the whole politically correct movement, while sometimes tedious, is based on the power of words. Particularly how hurtful they can be and I although I have already apologised fully to that lovely little agency in Soho called Baby Creative, particularly Lawrence Sassoon, who is a really top bloke, I want to do it publicly and draw attention to their client who now go by the name of Action For Children, which is a much more appropriate name for a children’s charity that does huge amounts with a less advertising budget than the Barnardo’s. I believe Barnardo's fund raising model is to spend more to raise more.

I should also apologise to my sister for being so thick.

Because we can

This makes perfect sense to me. Anyone confused leave a note in the comments and I'll give you a run down. It's by The Glue Society for the Vodka - 42 Below Zero

Sunday 23 November 2008

Social Causes

It's interesting isn't it that social causes like political movements appear to have more traction in social media than plain selling (i.e Not what's in it for me, What's in it for us?) James pitched in here about social value as more important than brand value though they could be the same thing sometimes in the future, and I wrote back here and here and God knows elsewhere, that this is the time for brand's to live with real values. It's not important whether they're left or right with their politics or their social causes, but whether they have a standpoint at all. The days of placing wealth creation at the centre of the wealth creation model seem to be diminishing when I see great creative ideas like this don't you think?

Couple that with a tweet I picked(nicked) off Faris early this Sunday morning, which single handedly redefines the academic definition of marketing, and I think we might see a valuable role for brands in social media. Only thing is they need to have some values and a standpoint in the first place. Not many yet are there? But surely it's only a matter of time before a global FMCG brand becomes the first to really stand behind say a powerful idea like 'campaign for real beauty' across all it's products and not just be cynical about one while pushing another message with others.

C'mon what are you waiting for? It's a mini depression and you all look and sell the same things. Stand for something.

Hat Tip to Mark Earls for spotting this even if we're having a wee squabble over the potential for neuro-ideas over at the deviant's place. You will have to go visit Marks to see the idea anyway as the object embedding is not working with Blogger.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

The Post Party Sweet Spot

Here's a post I've had brewing in my head for a while now. I've never stopped trying to reconcile selling more stuff (my work) in a world of finite resources. I believe that even if climate change is not happening because of the way we use carbon fuels and behave like it's a disposable society (ironic that isn't it?) that it's our moral responsibility to take care of this planet in a way which shows future generations that we tried to hand over the best torch possible.

I believe one day in the vast future we will look back at planet Earth, maybe from distant solar systems and see it as the genesis of something beautiful. If it's in good shape it might be reminiscent of a garden of Eden. Of course the religous references will get some people's backs up, but I have my own system of belief that belongs to no one else because it's mine and I'm quite convinced that without some belief there would be an equal amount of problems. This doesn't make me any less of a hypocrite as I'm a human and all too fallible.

I think John Grant went a long way to reconciling the notions of making money (or value) and treating the planet as if it's resources are meagre instead of full. It's not and, our evolutionary (yes I think evolution makes sense) programming doesn't allow us to instinctively take care of relatively slow moving events. We'll only know if we've fucked up when we've fucked and by then it's too late. So change our lives and do one right thing. Be frugal.

I'll share something about John and I. We never really get it on in real life, and because I think he's a genius, a bit of a hero, and also a brilliant communicator when given centre stage, I don't want people to confuse that with kissing ass. John and I had the same girlfriend in the late nineties. Not at the same time. I after him, and truthfully I only realised it when I started reading his blog nearly ten years later. I've never been one to follow industry stars because it's only advertising and not nearly as important as saving someone's life with a defibrillator which is far more useful when push comes to shove - It is however what I love doing. This may or may not be the reason why John and I are not best mates, but I know deep down as do many others that his book The Green Marketing Manifesto is one of the most important books in our business if for instance, working on a tobacco account is something you would find offensive. Aren't rising sea levels and climate change affecting the poorest on this planet much more offensive than auto-exposure to lung cancer?

My hopes for a 'rewiring of our economies' which is something I've been talking about for quite a while was never strong. I know that everything changes and everything stays the same so I couldn't see how we could slow down our economies and population growth to take the time to find solutions for not choking on our own growth. I spent long days talking about it in the US with my political mentor and he finally came round to my way of thinking that we need 'managed population decline' to really find ways of keeping this incredible thing called life continuing for millenia before we jettison ourselves off this planet, find somewhere else and let it grow fallow for a long time while observing it from distant galaxies as the birth of something quite special.

And then along comes something I've felt in my gut for about 5 to 10 years that we are facing a massive financial implosion. Nothing brainy or clever but simply put the idea of making money out of losses (shorting on a stock market) seems to me as stupid as having a bookmakers where betting on losers is the point. It's dumb and we were hoodwinked by the financial markets into believing it was a valid financial mechanism. Unless of course you were the creatives on this remarkable piece of prescience that I loved so much and tried to bring your attention to back in March.

Anyway, we've hit the sweet spot. It looks like we've had a hell of a party, there's cake and booze everywhere but now it's time to clean up and we can build a better world because of it. Yes we can do marketing in new ways while managing decline and add value and creativity to peoples lives with big thoughts such as more ideas less stuff. Isn't that what the internet is? Isn't sharing our lives more important that acquisition of more stuff. Shouldn't we compare ourselves by what we do, how we act and what we believe in rather than the bullshit marketing methodology that has been outed for what it really is so very recently; fear marketing of "if you don't wash your hair with our shampoo, you wont be as pretty as the other succesful girls in the office" or in this case, baby straps? Yes it took mothers to rebel and say fuck you to shitty advertising. I love this business and I am very optimistic about the future. We've hit a remarkable sweet spot. A big problem that needs sorting out with slower economies, enter stage right a mini global depression, the tools to fix it, as social media is nothing short of a revolution, and the kind of leadership that only tips up once every eighty years or so that has the mandate to really change things. Yes we can. Oy!

Now it's over to the economists. Why don't you do something useful for once and rewire our economies based on what we have and not on what we want. Because as we now know, we want it all. Including redemption.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Meaning Management - Grant McCracken

I had one of those 'oh shit' moments about planning recently. I follow Crispin Porter reasonably closely, more because of the cultural framework of the United States that their work illuminates than the brilliance of their creative. I get the feeling Crispin understand the macro task more than most and that gives me a kick. I like it that their work annoys people and yet they still get hired. I believe they play a broader and more intelligent game than just the commercials that the industry obsesses about.

Big Bucking Chicken was very memorable. A mate I grew up with in Southampton, and I would endlessly goof around saying 'bucking hell, for bucks sake, buck me' the list goes on and it's nice when an ad agency can deal the obscenity card with charm.

Getting back to my epiphany, I've followed the run up to, and execution of the long awaited Microsoft work by Crispin because I had strong views on how to solve the Microsoft communication challenge which sounds arrogant (and is) but there are some basic denial dimensions when it comes to Microsoft that nobody discusses openly and yet they are the issues, that if addressed can shift the brand to where it needs to be. Embracing the truth is a brilliant start. It's also the most challenging isn't it?

So when the Seinfeld and Gates work came out, contrary to the widespread chorus of derision I was up for it. It may not be as brilliant as we perhaps expected, but a quick deconstruction ticked off a few valuable boxes and then I subsequently wrote about it here just as the follow up work came out which was much stronger in my view. Whatever anyone says, it got talked about an awful lot. More than say an incredible brand like Nokia who have failed to deliver an ad that resonates.

The first endorsement I came across the Seinfeld and Gate's work, that added to my own thoughts was from Grant McCracken's blog Cultureby. It's often a challenging blog. It can be uphill to grasp some of his conceptual conclusions. His posting is prolific, and can seem daunting when there is a backlog of RSS feeds to catch up with, but they are best digested distraction free with time to go over the points that at first glance can seem either cryptically elusive or elliptically bloody simple. Maybe they're the same thing sometimes.

In any case, because I've been dropping by his blog for some time I'm quite fond of Grant's writing, it's the strength of conviction, spectrum of creative writing styles and unequivocal impatience with mediocrity - the man does not suffer fools at all. Like it or not Grant has an ace way of demolishing even his own academic peers. I'm sure this must be quite incendiary for the colleagues it's aimed at, but it pleases me no end that making chums is not the point of his Blog.

So anyway, Grant identified that many people were confused by the MS work. What was the point? And this is where Grant sort of says his plain stuff that has much more depth then is easily captured. He wrote: "The microsoft spot has a clear task: to rebuild the the Microsoft brand. It is using Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Gates and a particular situation to perform an act of "meaning manufacture"

That's the first pointer at a really important reframing of the quality end of planning. "Meaning manufacture" As if the fundamentals of signifier and signified can be remanufactured, hammered into shape, retooled for fresh purposes or stripped bare, skim the head gasket, grind the valves and rebore the cylinders to achieve new tasks or maybe it's time to deliver on tougher and evolved performance expectations.

He goes on in the Microsoft post to say "We can say it is good meaning manufacture. We can say it's bad meaning manufacture, But we can't be mystified a) that this ad exists, b) what it means to do, or c) what it has to do with "selling computers"

I agree, how can anyone not grasp what is being done. Sure the inexplicable is present in the narrative, but isn't that de rigeur for any self respecting piece of communication to leave gaps for the individual to fill in, or if struggling, to enjoy amusement through absurdity. Who cares? Most of it is as it is. But then the killer words emerged for me.

Grant writes "Microsoft is utterly out of touch with contemporary culture, and Bill Gates is, as someone once said of Dick Cavett, "spectacularly gentile" which is to say, utterly out of touch with contemporary culture. The Aquatic Life was a world too far. Some day. Perhaps someday this will be the 'sufficient act of meaning management.

This is where Grant serves up a bit of intellectual corporal punishment. I've had to look up Dick Cavett. My mobile is not playing fair and it seems from the clumps I caught that he's an inner circle Television celebrity from the golden era of American TV. I'm not sure how an Emmy Winner can be spectacularly gentile; I'm genuinely confused but if I were looking for an off the cuff comparison could the same thing be said about Mrs Palin? Ostensibly an executive fishwife with a nose for plain talking that fits sweet in a barren nature reserve with puffy fingered politicians in denial of Russia's proximity and the whole country of Canada before the U.S. really starts?

I could go on. Grant refers to "The Aquatic life" too. I'm stumped for the time being and so is the concise search engine results on my phone.

I'll get back to the point I want to make. It occurred to me that at the most cerebral end of advertising planning our job is 'meaning management'. I looked back into the archives and saw that there were many references to this reframing of the planning function and realised that it had slowly but surely seeped into my brain. So there it is. In my opinion we're either flogging stuff or working at a higher level and it's called Meaning Management' and Grant McCracken owns it. I wrote to him a quick mail to explain that I think it's ironic it took an anthropologist to explain my job to me and I hope you are as enthused by the term as I am when looking at tasks that fit the bill.

Sunday 19 October 2008

Charlie's Angle - Not made for TV

I've been pussyfooting around what I think, the future agency model should look like, and I may have failed quite badly by alluding to things rather than getting to the point. I was trying to suggest that the future agency (in some way) was likely to have some sort of Black Swan meets transmedia planning as a fundamental approach to work, although I never really explained in simple terms how things would tick, and then I saw that Adrants wrote that Wendy's used the inefficacy of an ad to explain what I wanted to say, and so I thought it best to be brutally simple given that I haven't seen enough to support the article's main assertion and more importantly the one I wish to emphatically make.

These are fast moving times and so it's even more important to be professionally radical, given there are fewer chances as the money dries up, to do what ad agencies excel at under the right conditions: kick ass commercial messages, produced to the highest level with flawless scripting (something the US market leaves the UK in the dust for), micro second timing and creative touches that often are more emotive than the creative idea. I think the days of doing an expensive TV commercial as the shop window output of the agency, or ground-to-air communication missile for clients are numbered. There will always be room for this kind of work. A smarter agency-client relationship will coalesce that it's a lot more effective to deliver more frequently and more experimentally, then execute in Lo-Fidelity, responding lightening quick and making use of contextual dynamics such as what was on the news an hour beforehand. That's just for starters.

Easier said than done, as to embrace this communication ideology means making and accepting lots more mistakes, yes more inexpensively but creatively (statistically speaking) doing more surprising and successful work that is, by the potential of its breadth, much more internet sticky. It makes a lot of sense to do 20 to 50 different types of communication pieces for a brand knowing that one or more is destined to be a Black Swan viral than to do a one-off that is by any historical assessment likely to be a well-polished and quickly forgotten museum piece. Sure there will be times when it's not smart to use this route. But in principle, if a polished but unmemorable piece of work is the category modus operandi, then more variations (and predictably forgettable failure) make sense in much the same way that say the author of The Black Swan (Yes I know, his pecker is rarely removed from my chops these days) Naseem Nicolas Taleb espouses spreading risk over 50 biotech stocks rather than one blue chip as an investment strategy providing worthwhile returns.

We can see in the prevailing global financial topography, that mediocristan is not so safe or smart is now self evident. Actually it's dangerous but nobody took an economy down by doing mediocristan advertising to my knowledge. Or maybe just by beating any creative or intellectual pulses into submission we extinguished the likelihood of respect from our customers.

If we start to reorganise agencies around the idea that experimentation and failure make for much more interesting and effective work, as well as marrying the successes into transmedia execution -- or part of it -- I think a more robust case is made for spending marketing budgets today by deploying more unprecedented attempts at risky but rewarding ideas than are currently being implemented. There you have it. 50 scripts, Lo-Fi execution, one or more hits that get passed around, and a model that doesn't bank on the bazooka approach but takes a good idea and lets other media play around with it as Faris would espouse. I would love to know if any people disagree with this. There are lots of gaps that need filling but surely the status quo of risk aversion and forgettable TV commercials is a scandalous waste of money. Particularly in these belt tightening times.

Let me say that again. Most shit is scandalously shit and furthermore it isn't hard to figure out why it was so easy to get away with in the past. That media context is changing so fast I can't see many modern marketing/advertising types surviving a brutal employment cull. My only hesitation is that as the volume of output increases with the model I'm proposing, the attention intervention, isn't necessarily deserved. It's likely though that the old frequency metrics which shaped 'campaign' efficacy are nowhere near the levels I'm thinking of for Transmedia meets Black Swan. Even the best virals I've watched only a handful of times. Naturally this idea will piss off a lot of creatives, and scare the crap out of agencies and clients who have built whole careers on risk aversion, but there's a shed load of opportunities too, if any are suspicious of what ostensibly looks like random shot blast for marketing communications. It isn't. It's about playing.

I make no claim for coming up with something new. Just being a bit culturally recombinant about existing ideas and knowing how the system worked in the past. Those days are numbered.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Fox Me Harder

One of the upsides of the current financial turmoil is my new found love for Fox News. I'm no CNN fan boy though, as they feel hopelessly incapable of appearing either robustly partisan or assiduously impartial. CNN strikes me as trying too hard to be a friend and having no solid position apart from the pursuit of ratings.

Fox has succeeded in invoking nauseous feelings with me, ever since our paths first crossed. The 'fair and balanced' tagline is Orwellian, and it perturbs me when reasonably educated people sing it's praises as the lone voice of truth against the liberal bias in the media (while forgetting about right-wing radio, the WSJ editorial and a slew of right-wing blogs).  Bias is evident in the media but it generally balances out. However the ferocity of the Fox presenters against the Democratic party members is distasteful, and symptomatic of everything  that is divisive about modern day politics in the United States.

Watching Fox presenters at work is like seeing a co-ordinated and telegenic gang of thugs at work. Like A Clockwork Orange with impeccable presenter hair do's, lickable teeth that blaze sparking enamel, and blusher that smoothes out aging and skin-colour differences under the intense bright lights. It is for me ugly, unhealthy and has reduced the U.S. media landscape to a default position of defining plurality of opinion as un-American activity, which is quite the reverse of what largely made the U.S. great in the first place. The makeup may be flawless and the colour graphics capable of rekindling the glare on the dimmest of aged TV screens, but it's the hate that fuels a grotesque spectacle of 'Newspeak' on offer 24/7 by Fox.

Despite avoiding Fox (or even TV as a general rule in recent years) I know their key political pundits reasonably well through Al Franken's book which did a pretty good job of demolishing the individuals who drive the ratings on this channel, including the token 'Liberal' Holmes, who hasn't quite figured out that Hannity on occasions is evidentally  a borderline sociopath (I believe if I heard correctly that the man admitted he'd never danced with his wife the other day, thus revealing as any double left-footer knows, a cauterized personality that is in need of therapeutic liberation.

It's not how well you dance it's about the joining in and participation Hannity. What next? No foreplay in case it distracts from and contributes to the time saving serious business of getting down to business? What next?  Supreme court appeals against fellatio and cunnilingus as incontrovertible evidence that Roe Versus Wade exclude all else that has no direct contribution to conception? What a tool.

Recently though I've started to enjoy the dysphoria that Fox News is experiencing through observing everything they have stood for, in the last eight years and more, disintegrate in daily live broadcasting of their televisual dingo pack life. All that they have despised, smeared and belittled is now becoming the bipartisan and consensually agreed way forward for their beloved government to avoid sparking off financial paralysis. The U.S. among other measures is nationalizing  financial institutions, and has done so to the worlds 20th largest company, throwing taxpayers money into anything that can be rescued if it keeps Wall Street propped up - whether that is strapped to the lamp post in a vein attempt to bluff sobriety matters not.

The rationalization for this remarkable about-face on the government's role in business and their increasing intervention  by the Fox news presenter line-up is more perverse than say the genre of fisting pornography popular with smooth talking Japanese admen. But all that Bill O'Reilly, Hannity et al can say in these astonishing times, is that these Trotskyite measures are not as painful as the alternatives of an instantaneous meltdown. What are we talking about here? Hot-dripping-wax meltdown on crying Japanese schoolgirls or just economic collapse? I must remember to write the Japanese humiliation sex post one day. It will be a corker. You can count on it.

If however that's what happens when a country avoids short sharp shocks and opts for long drawn out economic decline as medicine, drip fed over a decade or more, as the US is seemingly inclined to do, then I question the efficacy.

Break it up now and rebuild quickly no? Didn't Jung say the best thing to subvert human growth is the delay of legitimate pain?

Isn't this perverse denial by the Fox line-up called ideological bankruptcy?  Shouldn't this require some measure of contrition if not a full mea culpa? The Fox/Republican ideology that the markets are unfailingly wise has been unmasked as a laser focused and greed-driven wealth-acquisition spree with no concern for the people who are now being asked to pick up the bill or more accurately left with bills they will struggle to pay should their salaries be the next victim of liquidity problems.

Now that my former prejudice against Fox is dropping quicker than the dollar is about to in markets that have figured out how deep and long the US congress is going to embrace economic decline, I've discovered the upside of the Channel such as unexpected broadcasts  of the people I've seen as reluctant to be interviewed by serious media in the manner that proper journalists do. It's a complete revelation to see Donald Trump predicting that oil prices will drop like a rock (they will because of demand) and that this will be a silver lining (a slim one, the system is broken - not the cost of energy you cretinous syrup)

Here we have a phenomenally successful property tycoon incapable of providing anything close to the inspiration that these critical times are crying out for, and all the while  ingnoring impending complete loss of systemic confidence. I was however chuffed to see Bill O'Reilly lambast Karl Rove for the first time ever on home turf. I suspect that this was fueled by the realisation Bill's pension fund is looking like toast. Typically many Republicans feel outraged when it's their own financial well being at risk or when their prescriptive morality is challenged on say abortion or gay marriage. I could go on about Karl Rove and his constant appearances on Fox of late, although I doubt he's going to demand his own arrest any time soon now that the fake yellow cake from Niger for WMD's in Iraq has been discredited at the expense of outing a CIA operative so the case for war was perceived as robust. Karl Rove; yet another chicken hawk who sent the young sons of the United States to a war that will line the pockets of people in oil, defense and private security such as Karl Rove and his jackal consorts.

I  doubt a better time to enjoy Fox in their current predicament will occur again quite so soon. Here we have a bunch of people with a clear ideology that is articulated often and openly with more than an whiff of superiority, about where tax is taken and spent, the importance of business over society, war over peace, tolerance over intolerance, self sufficiency over charity, prison as a lucrative business necessity, war on drugs, war on terror, war on anti-war, and war on anything that galvanizes people to respond to the knee-jerk corrosive nationalism that fear invokes. Fox have supported the government on every major decision taken by the GOP; from the Iraq War to their negligent response over Hurricane Katrina. There is not an envelope to squeeze between them and the GOP, and so the impending displacement of U.S financial supremacy surely has their fervent endorsement held fully responsible? Some people say that if you're not on the left when young you've no heart and if you're not on the right when older you've no head. I say if you're not capable of conceding disastrous errors of judgement or acting with contrition towards society as a whole then the word sociopathic springs too mind again.

I don't wish this post to give the impression that I'm some fully paid up evangelist for the entire Liberal sentiment or that the Democratic party are the solution to the unprecedented challenges we are all about to face. I'm heavily disappointed with the lack of Democratic backbone in recent years, and their inability to voice the unpopular when a few years in the wilderness would have earned their stripes as people of principle and conviction. They've overseen a colossal failure of duty, and hardly deserve to inherit the cyclical momentum that appears increasingly likely to go there way. I'm on record as saying that Ron Paul was my preferred candidate for the presidency because of his sheer courage and frankness in policy proposal. So please no blind partisan loyalty from this neck of the woods. Binary views on life are unhelpful and probably anachronistic given the complexity and volume of  the information age we live in.

But for the time being Fox is making great TV as their reality disintegrates around them. Thanks for the show guys.

Monday 13 October 2008

Economics - A Reality Construction

Noah has written one of the most intelligent and thought provoking pieces on the demise of U.S. Economic supremacy I've come across on the net. However I've been reliant on a tiny N95 mobile phone for internet usage of late and it crashed twice after considerable effort.
I have now secured the Wifi needed to respond fully to both his post and questions in the comments section. However I decided that here is more appropriate to respond given they are quite extensive.

"Hey Noah, as you know my N95 browser extinguished some pretty extensive comments I laboriously squeezed out through predictive text to respond to both your questions and terrific post. It's disappointing because they were more coherent than what will follow but now I'm in front of a traditional keyboard I'll try and resume the key thoughts.

I think the point you make early on that everything is imaginary echoes my hyperbole of simulacrum as insanely useful. It lends credence to the notion that much of what we hold as valuable or important is largely illusory, Baudrillard's work supports that much is not as it seems, or indeed is largely defined by what we collectively determine it to be. The Herd dynamic is a potent one for reality definition.

Buddhism has plenty to say on the folly of illusions, but I'm not in the business of proselytizing so moving onwards, all this intellectual posturing is of little value should a not inconceivable liquidity breakdown come about, causing the economic eco-system to stall rapidly, incurring supply shortages through cash flow paralysis, inflationary pressure and a dysfunctional and erratic distribution of basic goods such as food.

Should hunger present itself in such a catastrophic scenario as this, then simulacrum will provide no relief for stomachs, save for the likes of the intellectual and pampered elite such as ourselves. I hope such a scenario doesn't take place, as in an interdependent world we all need to find a commonly beneficial solution.

However it's clear when referring to simulacrum, that the financial institutions have played fast and loose with their customers money and furthermore expect to be rescued from their excesses with additional funds that the taxpayers will bear the brunt of. As you point out, any run on the banks hurts the customers just as much as the key stakeholders . There is an emerging consensus that banks need to have the bricks they indiscriminately loaned money for covered - over and against say a food/travel subsidy program that will keep Joe Sixpack sufficiently nourished and mobile to do the work he is compelled rather than would elect to do. That's the nature of mass unemployment but more importantly that emerging consensus is wrong. People first not bricks and mortgages.

There is no imaginary dimension to the naked greed that gave the likes of Dick Grasso a $200 million pay-off for ringing that triumphalist Dow Jones, record profit-taking bell, which to the outside world rang more of hubris than fairness.

The US is an amazing country that was in part built on the notion of an optimism for today, driving future growth. It's still an incredible idea; however, the point of crossover not entirely removed from a 'prosperity simulacra' emerged when today's growth fueled the optimism for tomorrow's continued success. This is an entirely different, and logically unsustainable scenario - indistinguishable to many who prefer swift moving scenarios that are easier to track.

It's about optimism driving fortune as opposed to fortune driving optimism. One is the free and self determining dynamic that pays a dividends, the other the dividend that encourages more and increasingly greedy higher risk-taking.

I don't concur that events are as random as you assert. I've pointed out that attendants of the World Economic Forum at Davos were raising the flag of an impending crisis quite some time back, and that on page 225 in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Black Swan the footnote could not be clearer of the statistical backflips performed by J.P. Morgan's 'Riskmetrics' and the dangerous situation Fanny Mae was in. I would include my post in July that while in the States I saw what was coming and that the reluctance to even discuss the subject of recession and financial collapse by perfectly intelligent Americans was of a magnitude I've encountered in Beijing during the recent Tibetan crisis when any mention of sovereignty was met with the same furious indignation that another point of view could have some validity.

I am however still fueled by a recent rereading of Talebs 'Fooled by Randomness' to concede that it's difficult to divine where this will eventually flesh out. Sure developed economies will hurt more, and developing economies unexposed to the toxicity of goofy financial instruments will experience a rise in commensurate currency-strengthening which, while not stratospheric will have a contextual rise in influence. Those are just broad sweeps but a consensus that it's still early days is one I agree with fully.

As for the lack of moral clarity, you write about, I understand your point in resolving the complexity of being both resentful towards the bank's actions and the need for ostensibly indiscriminate bailouts to diminish the potential for loss of savings. I think there are creative ways of making sure the punitive measures are soaked up by errant banks and not their customers. The idea that they have a carte blanche get out of jail free card, is unacceptable. All it takes is resolve, creativity, strong government defending the populace and not the privileged, and the banks can sit on the paperwork they have a claim to,while the real task of ensuring that the day to day needs of the people who are invariably screwed time and time again are taken care of.

It's crucial in these unprecedented times to ask ourselves the question: am I going to trust the same people who screwed up my mortgage, credit line, savings, security, national liquidity, international credibility and much much more to provide an answer that is audacious, creative, transnational, collaborative and most importantly punitive on the people who at present have mistaken their ability to create wealth with the randomness that potentially could clean them out if the panic concludes they are no longer to be trusted.

Should this come across as supportive that now is a good time to adress poverty redistribution you wouldn't be far wrong right. The disparity between the haves and the have nots globally is unacceptable and now is a good time to to ensure that culture drives economics and not the other way round.

These are quite remarkable times and the opportunity for a new approach is way more tempting than propping up the greedy people who never fail to fleece the people and ask for more."

A sensational post Noah. Exactly what I'd expect from you and an heroic attempt to use intellect to impose a sense of much needed order. We only probably differ on what that order should look like.