Sunday 31 January 2010

We Are Animals

A while back I wrote 'Go Forth' was the best commercial I'd seen since since Freedom to Move by Levi. Actually the former ad has more qualities because to me it signalled a shift in the rasion d'etre of brands vis a vis the cul de sac logic of consumption. Most people I know disagreed with me about that but after seeing this latest Wrangler commercial I enjoy that this type of content is a break from tedious commercial breaks.

That is a long discussion about the possible emerging purpose of brands in a moral sense. Too big for me to go into now though I did have some ideas about all that when John Grant was writing The Green Marketing Manifesto. His new book is out now, and I think he may be writing a post about it here so keep an eye out for that.

Anyway, some might say the Wrangler work is derivative but I like the sense of basic necessities that is being communicated. The poetry if you will.

Update: Original Commercial deleted

Friday 29 January 2010

Lies dammed lies and statistical bias

There are many reasons for wishing to pursue this ongoing theme which could last about three years, so I'm in no hurry. Also we've had sufficient time after the last Google Trends chart embed to find out that it isn't a dynamic script which would have caused extra work as I want those charts to be fixed in a point of time, and not self updating.

I'm also always looking for different interpretations in the comments from people who like this sort of thing or even blunt finger pointing at glaring examples of oversight or bungled conclusion so do get stuck in as this one is more journey than destination. But in principle it's a monologue hopefully interspersed with bits of conversation about how to sensibly approach the world of quantitative research and analysis. I don't think it's any secret that I'm more interested as a planner in brand DNA issues. I'd rather find out more about distribution and assembly matters than a TGI analysis. However that doesn't mean I ignore customer segmentation data. I just happen to think that most is not only badly conceived, it's then poorly executed and to compound matters it's given the sort of analysis that demeans all the work put into it. I also see very little meanings discussion in meetings with clients and even less externally on blogs. That may be because it's boring but even just articulating some of the thoughts and conclusions I've encountered is useful and for you too I hope.

One example I'd like to give is when working with NOKIA who really do have an awful lot of love from me for reasons they dont like to talk about (durability) but nevertheless around the time I was in orbit to a fair chunk of Helsinki's GDP the global market share for NOKIA was around 40 percent. Profits were dizzy and breathless, the manufacturing plant in Beijing looked like the most progressive work environment in the People's Republic of China, R&D in Oulu, Finland was staffed by the kind of people who weren't just boffins with a surplus of cash, there were even a few cool people paid to be imaginative. I blogged about it over here.

But it seemed to me at the time that NOKIA were on the precipice. Difficult to explain but it felt like there was little upward trajectory left ahead. There simply wasn't that much more room to grow given their handset segmentation strategy. Too many phones, too many segments and a notable absence of wow or excitement. The iPhone had just come out (mine was conveniently stolen at the IPA awards about 24 hours after I bought it) and the market for apps hadn't matured sufficiently so the future wasn't as fertile as it now looks. The single largest potential for increased market share was the rapid decline of MOTOROLA for reasons I wrote about over here. Other than that Palm and Blackberry were cranking up their game and a number of the Asian competitors were increasingly improving their products. That's HTC (Now the Google Nexus manufacturer), ASUS, Samsung, LG and all the other Asian posse, who do mobile marketing hygiene really well.

Having the conversation about how to defend market share rather than retail obsessed new product launches was not on the cards with NOKIA. To be fair, by the time you''re in a meeting discussing the launch of a model that looks suspiciously chunky despite it's geo utility specs they're just into selling the product so it doesn't gather dust on shelves and so macro discussions of how to spend the marketing budget more wisely aren't on the table. We have however since seen NOKIA's profits tumble and it's difficult to see how they can resecure their formidable market advantage again. A situation that was pointed to by the statistics long before they got there and mainly on a common sense hunch. I'm reminded that at that time I found their purchase of the mapping company Navteq for 8 billion US Dollars as really interesting and yet we now see that it's given away for free to match up against Google's mapping offer - That's a lot of money turning on a dime. This is further evidence that strategic planning is increasingly diminished in a fast moving world.

And it's on a hunch that I want to go back to the topic of 2012 as a search term. My assertion (completely my own and thus riddled with uncertainty, error and naturally intellectual hubris) is that the 2012 search term will become a byword for a sort of post pre millennial tension not unlike the sort we experienced from the Y2K bug. I'd completely forgotten how angst ridden a lot of people were at the time but the 2012 search term works well on a similar level because it's a numbers based term and thus transnational, which is really important. And also it's a sort of third party projection for every conceivable worry over the next three years or so. I've started rereading my Black Swan again and Taleb reminds us that in the Pleistocene period, the sort of randomness we experience on an almost daily basis through sheer human activity simply didn't occur. There's a hint of the singularity  that emerges here too, but in short I think the ride get's wilder as humanity progresses.

You can quote me on that.

To paraphrase my new favourite Irishman, Terrence McKenna "we're caught in a white knuckle race between education and extinction" so I assume the 2012 search term will serve as an indicator for quantitative analysis of the unquantifiable. That sounds about right doesn't it? However as I've blathered on a fair bit I'm going to return to the topic afresh and will only embed a fresh update of the previous chart which shouldn't have any significant changes. I'll be taking a look at country breakdowns of 2012 search terms. It's not only interesting, it's hugely misleading time and again in most surveys I read but let's go step by step. For the time being. Here's latest chart update. Anybody got anything to say you're most welcome to fire off anything you wish in the comments, as I've begun to reveal more of my initial premise.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Marshal McLuhan

I always embrace any discussion of McLuhan if only because it validates the work of a man who wasn't even around to see his post Gutenberg vision of the media landscape manifest itself so fully, so accurately and arguably even quicker then McLuhan would ever have anticipated. It's completely fair if one wishes to split hairs that the medium isn't quite the message. But only in so much as it's equally fair to assert that it's probably larger than the message typified by the noses of children in the 1950's pressed up against the new fangled TV screen to a story such as Avatar which is solely reliant on the movie medium to create it's unique impact. Straight to DVD speaks for itself but my favourite playful discussion  asks that if the medium is the message wouldn't logic point towards the message is the medium? OK I'm kidding but you get what I'm saying I'm sure. The room usually goes quiet when I lob that one in but I've always been fond of a bit mischief.

It's arguable that the movie surpasses the message, for without the movie, the message is diminished by it's own narrative constraints (around a campfire, straight to DVD etc) or it is as it is depending on what your interpretation of is, is. A deliberate confluence of both McLuhan and Clinton. My point being that McLuhan as Joyce scholar was very much a stylistic thing as was the comeback kid's legalese.

It is however clear that McLuhan would have had a lot to say about our existing digital topography and where it points. Pity he died in 1980 and that his mystical like status dissolved pretty much overnight, till resurfacing of late as at least a more thoughtful media analysis of where we were rather than we're at (tempus fugit). 

Does anybody really know?

One thing I do is that Digital loves a free ride doesn't it? It would have been great to hear an analysis of this in the context of what McLuhan really excelled at which was as a Medievalist. Essentially it's helpful to get a fix on how long language has been around. Let's call it 30 000 years or so because like the dreams which are so lucidly remembered when we awake, they and their mystical meaning so often evaporate in the short few steps to our morning ablutions and we're so unclear about our communications legacy if it wasn't carved in stone. There's a reason for the dream references, but here's not the place to nip back into talk of pineal glands and the traces of Dimethyltryptamine it both creates and breaks the law at the same time. I find that fascinating.

So yeah language. When the male and female of our species emerged from two million years of a quasi arboreal lifestyle encompassing the dual roles of hunter & gatherer arguably cultivating the male traits of silence and stoicism while waiting for the herd to turn up at the drinking pool, alongside the pragmatically chattering advantages of the female of our species exploiting the value of knowing what berries, nuts and mushrooms to pick at what time of the year and where, it's probable that an animalistic version of communication on a level equal to, or more evolved than say dolphins, pigs, octopi  and such like, magically manifested itself to an unprecedent level of compelling complexity into the most potent meme system in the history of man. There is no more spreadable media than assigning words for objects and then assigning arbitrary codes such as uncountable nouns after prepositions and definitive articles. Evolved language was definitely a 'holy fucking shit' moment of such grautuitous common sense and spreadability that every ape worth his or her salt picked up on it like the iTablet fetishism of last nights tweetfest, though more durably.

Equally around this time the neo cortex exploded in size while the lower jaw retracted and so began the first experiment with lifestyle along with the crops that required cultivating, the storage thereof that mandated a security-complex along with arguably a paternalistic 'ownership' and monogamy lifestyle along with the usual suspects of religion, mead brewing and hierachical structures related to, but not quite evolved directly from the instinctive and often silently acquired ones earned as great apes. Politics if you will.

Moving forward (or backwards depending on how you read history) the next Bob Beamon Olympic long jump moment of the day was after the evolution of pictographs which aren't much more than an elaboration on cave paintings into the exciting idea of word languages condensed into an alphabet. It's at this moment that McLuhan steps in to guide us towards the next epiphany, the introduction of print and it's disruptive impact on Western society (excluding China's non-moveable type which kept the whole industry from taking off as the Guttenberg moment did). 

It's fairly important to appreciate that prior to print, a different set of cognitive skills were used to consume information. McLuhan highlights that the medieval practice of script consumption dictates a different set of skills from print. We have to LOOK at script as opposed to print (digital or otherwise) which requires READING. Once the first fifty types of say the letter E or e have been understood, we then no longer have to look at the letter and switch into a condensed and linear mode of media consumption that is so far removed from the looking demanded of script writing that it's difficult to comprehend unless we take into account such ideas as the notion of a public, which didn't exist prior to the Guttenberg press. 

That's because there was no public but as soon as leaflets and the bible became objects for consumption then the idea of manufacturers and consumers of information warranted the introduction of a public. Prior to that the Kings and the Clergy used to just do stuff unannounced and undiscussed (increase taxes, burn witches etc.) and we would marvel at their silent power. That's all changed now as the hoi polloi (that's me) dive in the creation pool too but it's important to remember that there was a time when the first person in history ever was identified as having the ability to read silently in their head before repeating it. Prior to that everybody just read aloud and so emerged the language of lectures in the academic or monastic environment.

I could go on but I think Faris has written a provocative piece covering McLuhan which admits that there is no discussion of the man without knowing that dance, Roman roads and lightbulbs are media. However, more interestingly the notion of a consumption platform is distilling/emerging (a context?) which is a good thing. In a previous life some might have called this a media type but it all starts to bleed in the digital world in such a gratuitous manner it simply is no longer helpful. How an eReader or iPad differ from a Nexus or a Netbook just complicates the hell out of things but it becomes evident that the size of screen and user interface says a lot, and that the surroundings in which the content can be consumed or more accurately HOW they can be consumed defines to a considerable extent what they are. So a phone under the meeting table for reasons of discretion in a boring meeting has just as many consumption variables on what is read and how it is read as say yesterday's trending topic of #thoughtsonthetoilet which arguably speak for themselves, though again, like in the past I urge that the context be fully explored to really help understand what is going on. By context I totally mean the environment in which media variables are created or consumed because otherwise we're back to the Nexus is different from the iPad which points suspiciously towards "The medium is the message". Which was always a more stylistic assertion on McLuhan's part, than a set in stone media law despite it's heavy counter intuitive logic defying truthiness. Or as Wittgenstein would say. It's true enough!

McLuhan was a Joyce Scholar, a convert to Catholicism and a person who turned the whole deconstruction lens of western thought in on the topic of media and arguably of itself, as itself and by itself. You just can't mess with that when it's done well. Nobody did it better than my main man McLuhan.

Saturday 9 January 2010

How Great Thou Art

This work filmed in New York reminds me of a conversation I heard repeated recently between an American and a Pakistani sometime in the late 60's or early 70's I guess. The American, squashed in the back of the pedal powered cab  listened as the Pakistani driver said.

"You see, we here in Pakistan understand the problem. Progress he exclaimed! Progress is the problem".

It sounded funnier in audio but it touches on a some thoughts I've had recently and which I've no answer for. However this is the second piece of art in a week which gives me permission to hope that maybe our artists are emerging from an understandable but frustrating inertia of everything goes, compounded by never quite leaving when its time was up.

Too early to call but this work is not inconsequential is it?

The flip side of the progress coin is a dawn shot of New York that someone tweeted the other day, and which left me in no doubt of the city's prowess as the definitive skyline of progress. 

It's this that awes me about New York. On weird days the abstract creativity of Wall Street spits in my gravity cautioning face. But for the record. I'm anti gravity. 

Sort of.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Google Insights

The preview function for this post isn't working as I'm writing this post. It's an embed chart for Google Insights and I want to use it and others, as the basis for a more rigorous (and ongoing) discussion of research. The research industry doesn't want that discussion preferring instead blind and slavish diligence to discredited principles. 

I say blind because though I was quite generous with Synovate back here, I thought I'd hold out on highlighting that their poster is actually placed in the only restaurant among twenty or so in Sok Kwu Wan that has closed down. 

This is somewhat like a short allegorical tale for the whole research industry in advertising. They haven't researched their own assumptions. The managing director of Synovate Hong Kong doesn't respond to my emails, and regretably this is the best awarded agency that Hong Kong has to offer. 

Quite, is all I can say. 

In principle the research business (like the banks and their credit guessing mathematics) is fundamentally flawed because it's a risk analysis game. If you position risk analysis against creativity (as we do in advertising) then whoever is paying for the risk analysis wins. If clients are happy to trust their planners on research interpretation then the results are intelligent but if not, well you can switch the TV on and see the results in the next commercial break.

However, rather then launch an ongoing discussion of quantitative (trends) analysis using this incredible Google tool (it may not display) I want to test post first and see if my first chart is visible. If it's not above this paragraph I'll do a screen grab and add it underneath later.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Powerful Ideas

I have a different conclusion over the value of opinion forming from customer reviews than Neil writes today, because there's a lot of contextual depth when people give strong opinions. It's much the same reason that I read newspapers that disagree with my political opinion. 

But it's still a great post so head over and pipe Neils great blog into your RSS reader

Six Types of Twitter User

Via Tom Fishburne

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Coincidences & Synchronicity

Have any of you noticed that since media was largely socialised, and that as data streams are curated and pumped out through real simple syndication, that the number of coincidences and synchronicities have increased? Non bloggers might find this more in their Facebook updates that 'coincidental stuff' is occurring more frequently.

Perhaps it's just me then, but I was thinking about this a few years ago, when as a card carrying data junkie, I noticed that biurnal activity was shooting through the roof. At first I thought 'what does this mean?' but then that was overtaken with a more useful 'why is this happening?'.

I think the conclusion is simple, as it points towards a concrescence of activity across all my media apertures. And lets face it, even freeways/autobahns/motorways are media, as is cash or clothing. So it became my hypothesis that as my data consumption skyrocketed, I was statistically consuming a greater percentage of information proportionately, from a relatively static existing idea/subject pool - furthermore the enlargening idea/subject pool was one where I pay more interest anyway. A bit like noticing something gets mentioned a lot more the first time we pick up on it.

Put another way, biting into more apples would increase the likelihood of regularly eating a couple of pips. That's probably a bad analogy but it's will do for the time being because there is a certain amount of auto curation to how I consume data, like Google Reader's suggestions, based on algorithmic pattern profiling of what I'm interested in. I could talk a little bit about how the topics of emergence, complexity, chaos and fractals are themes I'm keeping an eye open for and which are popping up with surprising regularity, but actually the most curious one occured in Taryn Simon's TED talk about secret photography which chimed amazingly with a video I watched yesterday on Vatican symbology. 

I've been to the Vatican twice and it's kind of strange because on the second trip (which was probably an homage to my first childhood trip) I drove from Frankfurt to Rome and enjoyed absorbing the history and paying much more attention than the first time as a  7 year old. The one symbol that stood out for me on that second trip, was the Golden Globe pictured below. It jarred at the time when I saw it in real life, and jarred again when it was then mentioned in yesterday's video along with a lot of pineal glands (comes from its pine cone shape) as well as the use of pine cones in Vatican symbology and many other cultures from the Egyptians to the Mayans. You can see a pine cone statue, in the background of the Vatican shot.

Then I noticed it has a strong resemblance to the Death Star from Star Wars which sort of inexplicably cheered me up. I feel like I've wandered from data synchronicity theory to something a bit trivial but I'm hoping you get the drift. If not the sound bite is consume more information and coincidences increase exponentially. Coincidentally this quote has been floating around my data stream a lot recently. I like it a lot.

PW Bridgman defined a coincidence as "What you have left over when you have a bad theory"