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The Age of Unreason

“Change is not what it used to be. The status quo will no longer be the best way forward. That way will be less comfortable and less easy but, no doubt, more interesting.”

Charles Handy penned those words a quarter of a century ago in his book ‘The Age of Unreason‘. Handy took George Bernard Shaw’s observation that all progress depends on the ‘unreasonable man’. He used this to argue that we were at an unprecedented point in history when unreasonable men and women would be the one’s to succeed. Now we can look back and see that his vision for the future proved to be amazingly prescient.

A brave new world

Facebook was the brainchild of a distinctly unreasonable man. Mark Zuckerberg’s meteoric rise from a geeky kid to the second youngest billionaire of 2013 (the first is Zuckerberg’s old roommate Dustin Moskovitz, who is 8 days younger) has been mythologized by Hollywood, and the platform he created leapt upon by enthusiastic brands. A new world of Social Media Marketing was born.

Since then, brands and their agencies have been seeking to make sense of a world in which they are constantly connected to consumers. For some it is a terrifying space where corporate misdeeds and marketing mistakes can be ruthlessly exposed. Others have seized the opportunity to build brands by creating engaging content, only to realise that this is a relentless never-ending process.

Who turned out the lights?

Oreo Superbowl

When the lights went out during the 2013 Superbowl and Orea published that tweet, it was clear that the rules of the game had changed. Now speed was the barometer of success. Brands were in a race against time – and against each other – to be the first with a witty response to notable events. Sometimes those comments would prove to be ill judged.

kennethcole-cairo

When trying to navigate this demanding environment, it’s not surprising that brands and agencies turned towards those organisations that have had a long history of responding in real-time to events in the outside world, media newsrooms. However as the leaked report on innovation at the New York Times reveals, even one of the world’s greatest newsrooms is struggling to adjust to the digital age.

The picture painted in the report is one of crisis, with digital skills being misunderstood by senior management and therefore undervalued. It contrasts this with the success of newer publishers such as Buzzfeed, which is well on the way to becoming the world’s largest online news destination. Buzzfeed may not have the same journalistic pedigree as the New York Times, but it does understand what drives the internet.

Porn, Pets and Selfies

What Tim Berners-Lee could not have known when he invented the World Wide Web, is that the internet would be powered by porn, pets and selfies. The porn industry would become the driver for mass adoption of innovations such as webcams and live streaming. Meanwhile people took to social networks in droves to share images and funny videos of their pets – and of course – #selfies. According to research published on eMarketer in March 2014, photos accounted for 75% of content posted by Facebook pages worldwide.

Betfair Porn

This doesn’t mean that all brands have to do is post pictures of their products. As Martin Wiegel from W+K in Amsterdam states:

“If you want to FAIL do this…

Assume that people care about brands…

Assume that everyone wants to participate… 

Assume that people will find your content.”

He sums up the challenge for marketers: “Our task is not nurturing enthusiasm but overcoming indifference.”

The agencies that will thrive in the Age of Unreason are those that adopt the best practices of media newsrooms, merging these with creativity and insights into what drives user behaviour. They will streamline their processes, becoming more cost effective and agile. They will challenge conventions and take risks, because as Charles Handy puts it, this is a time for “thinking the unlikely and doing the unreasonable.”

Be Part of

Jonathan Akwue is a Partner at Engine and the Director of Moment Studio UK – a new creative newsroom for hire, based on a model successfully pioneered by Deep Focus in New York.

150 years of John Lewis – brand experience carried home

From the latest John Lewis 150th anniversary campaign

From the latest John Lewis 150th anniversary campaign (Source: ebiquity)

John Lewis has been celebrating its 150th anniversary, and has done so in its inimitable style, with a big showcase ad designed to boost those all-important positive emotional associations. Predictably, and inevitably, this sparks off a torrent of commentary from those in the industry. If you took a representative sample of marketers and related professions, I suspect you’d find very few with a bad word to say about John Lewis. And if they did, it might well be something facetious about how that bear would have eaten the hare.

Read More »

NO GOOGLE. NO WIKIPEDIA. NO INTERNET. NO BOOKS. NUFFIN’.

That’s me for this particular blog.

I swear to God I’m writing this with just my brain, my body and a laptop that is offline.  I know: I’m a radical.

I don’t know how to prove that I haven’t looked anything up  during the production of this piece of writing.

Other than you warping the fabric of space and time, coming over here and watching over my shoulder. Which would put me off no end.  I just ‘looked it up’ in my noggin’.

I love words and I love writing. I also love craft and craftspeople. But writing – any writing – takes skill and, crucially, knowledge. Even a bit of academic knowledge.

Blimey.

So here’s one for you copy warriors:

KILLER COPY QUIZ (ENGLISH)

1.  Do you know three words that end in ‘eity’? What are they?

2.  What’s the definition of the ‘subjunctive’? And one example of its use?

3. Is ‘an hotel’ right or wrong? If you think it’s right, please explain why.

4. Should there be an apostrophe in ‘Mothers Day’ (sic)? If so, where?

5. ‘It’s just semantics’. Is this ever true?

6. Is there a difference between a hobo and a panhandler? No cheating please.

7. Deixis. Explain what this is in a few words. Like I say: no cheating.

8. Apostrophe use. Is it grammar or punctuation?

9. What’s a gerund?

10. In terms of grammar, please give an example of the imperative.

11. What is bathos? Clue: no need for soap or a loofah.

12. Internet. Uppercase ‘i’? Yes or no? If yes, can you explain why you think so?

13. How many trick questions are there in this quiz?

14. How do you define a trick question?

15. Do you need to know any of this stuff to write good copy for marketing, advertising or PR?

16. “Brevity is always best.” True or false?

17.  Have you used Google, Wikipedia or any website or book yet?

18. “Pedantry is not the same thing as a love of language”. True or false?

If you got the correct score (I’ve no idea what that is), then you got full marks or an A or whatever. Well done.

Are you sure you didn’t look at that new internet thingy on computers?

Either way, please see me.

In the pub.

We can have a word-off.

Or just a drink and half an hour’s silence…

I could do with a rest.

If you really would like the answers to these questions, tweet me @jonstart or email me: jonstaines@hotmail.com

For meta or worse

When I recently asked myself which TV ads from the last thirty years had made a lasting impression on me and why, three ads immediately sprang to mind. Weirdly, all three were in black and white and they were all significant to me for the same reason. Read More »

Curry World. Pizza World.

Aunty Jane used to live in Stockwell. When we went to visit, I always looked forward to walking past the brilliantly named:

‘Curry & Pizza World – The Best of Both Worlds’.

Of course, in many respects, it was an absurd, messy proposition. Certainly no prissy pizza producer or self-respecting curry chef would likely want to find him or herself working there.  But the customers loved it: you want a Margarita, your brother wants a Chicken Jalfrezi, Pauline has Rogan Josh, and Granny will always go for a Quattro Stagioni. Brilliant; everyone is taken care of, no one gets left out.

Curry & Pizza World had looked at their potential customers, what they wanted, and decided there was a niche; a rich seam that they could tap. As a result, they did a roaring trade. Maybe they still do.

In 1990, Chrysler, GM and Ford had combined revenues of about $250bn.

They employed over a million people, and their total market capitalisation was around $36bn.

In 2012, Google, Facebook and Apple also had revenues of about $250bn. They employed just 130,000 people.  And their market capitalisation was $790bn.

I’ve written a lot about the pressure, disintermediation and commoditisation wrought on Western business by both the rise of Asia and the explosion of digital. But nothing, for me, has brought that macropicture to life as vibrantly as these Detroit vs Silicon Valley statistics: three companies that, in 1990, either didn’t exist, or – like Apple – were a bit of a joke, enjoying more than 20 times the market cap of their long-established Motown counterparts.

They’re overvalued, of course. But that isn’t the point.  The point is that the iterative, focus-on-efficiences, refine-and-hone model that was for years the supposed source of competitive advantage for corporations and their senior  executives alike – ‘Operational Excellence’ – has now reached a tipping point where it offers only ever-diminishing returns.

The car industry is a fabulous example, but there are countless others besides.

Because of this, businesses in the West have to reinvent themselves; fundamentally, relentlessly.

Here’s the good news. That reinvention ain’t gonna come from the ‘tried and tested’ methodologies of the big management consultancies.  Those methodologies have been tried, been tested (not least by Detroit-based automobile businesses). Fresh thinking isn’t what the consultancies do.

It is, of course, with differing degrees of success, what agencies think they do – and so it should come from them. But agencies are not, typically, particularly switched on when it comes to really understanding strategy (despite talking about it endlessly), and certainly not when it comes to charging for the stuff – indeed often they give it away, in order to get the TV campaign, the website, the DM, whatever.

The real difference to clients will be made when grown-up, credible thinkers take needle-moving ideas to corporations; providing them with the fuel and the know-how for real, tangible and much-needed change – and crucially without the institutional expectation that such assistance will always, necessarily manifest in some sort of classic external advertising or marketing campaign.

That’s what the corporations want, and that’s certainly what they need. So that’s what we should supply.

Just like Curry & Pizza World.

Simply, Better

ballet shoesLast week, I went to the ballet and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I love the ballet. It is not about the grace (and it is graceful) or the beauty (and it is beautiful); it is the effortlessness with which the dancers execute moves of tremendous strength, often in synchrony with many other dancers. It never ceases to amaze or surprise me. Among my many hobbies, I am a yoga teacher in training. I know (or at least can guess) just how much effort must be going in to making that hard work effortless and into making the difficult look simple. But it is all the better for looking so simple and so effortless.

Read More »

Jesus Games.

We don’t really do religion in our family.

Indeed, the catch-all, non-denominational, multi-faith, woefully inaccurate moniker that we afford to all religions is ‘Jesus Games’.

Some people like to go and play Jesus Games on a Sunday, some on a Saturday, and some on a Friday.

We don’t.

But as easy as it is for us heathens to take potshots at religion, as marketers there’s a huge amount to admire.

Purpose. Amongst all the abject bullshit spouted about ‘purposeful’ brands these days, here’s some that indisputably are. Religions know, to Simon Sinek’s point, ‘why’ they exist and, as a result, their employer brands are to die for. Literally, sometimes.

Visual Identity.  The redacted, nuanced sophistication of the cross is so powerful it is uncanny – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost all neatly encapsulated in one infinitely reproducible shape. The ancient symbolism of the Seder plate would put a Michelangelo to shame, and – whilst the use of symbols is prohibited in Islam – there is no denying the importance of (easily recognisable) geometry in Muslim architectural expression.

Storytelling. Religions know how to spin a good yarn.  This week’s Freak-The-Kids-Out includes either a zombie or the ‘Angel of Death’ depending on how much ‘Jesus’ you like with your ‘Games’. And in 8 short months’ time, we can look forward to the self-styled ‘Greatest Story Ever Told.’ However bizarre, these stories have endured, and they work on many different levels. No mean feat.

Tech. Leveraging the latest technology has always been a strength. The printing press enabled, for the first time, scalable storytelling: the Bible, the Qu’ran. And the advent of television ushered a whole new cadre of telegenic, sparkly-eyed ‘GamesMakers’; from the Tora Bora caves to the churches of middle America.  As a result, the stories have gone viral.

Integrated. Above-The-(Tree)Line spires and minarets are visible in our landscapes, and – consciously or otherwise – remind us of the various ‘brand promises’, whilst the DM that pours through the letterbox is seemingly as endless as His Love. There’s sonic branding, in the form of song, and – for the really dedicated – ‘uniforms’ to ensure you can stay bang on-message 24/7.

All of which perhaps gives food for thought in our world  - courtesy of those who believe in the next.

Happy Easter. And a Healthy Passover.

The Trust Trap strikes again

Last week, we were treated to another one of those surveys, listing Britain’s most trusted brands.  This time, the top 3 positions were held by the AA, the Post Office and Boots.  All famous names, to be sure, and all companies full of integrity.  So no doubt we should congratulate them for this momentous achievement.  But perhaps our praise should be somewhat muted.

You see, all the empirical evidence suggests that trust alone is actually a pretty poor predictor of commercial success.  The truth is that trust is clearly necessary for success but not nearly sufficient.  In fact, I’ve long believed that placing too much emphasis on this metric can actually be positively unhelpful, as it can lull executives into a false sense of security, suggesting that everything is well when it is not.

A much more telling measure is “brand fame”.  As Les Binet and Peter Field noted in their seminal 2007 work for the IPA (“Marketing in the Era of Accountability”), this is “not the same as awareness: it is a perception of authority in the category rather than a state of knowledge”.  According to Binet and Field’s exhaustive analysis, brands which adopt “brand fame” as a key metric are significantly more likely to report very large effects on sales and market share than those who pursue other measures (including “trust”).

Many other studies point to the same conclusion: that brands succeed where they have energy, drive and salience.  While the specific terms used may differ from one report to another, these are all forward-looking, positive dynamic descriptors – not just the retrospective absence of a negative.

So while we applaud last week’s winners, perhaps we shouldn’t trust trust too much.

 

 

How mobile is driving the native revolution

Piers North is strategy director at Yahoo

Piers_North

Native advertising is one of the buzz words of the moment and it generally provokes one of two reactions. Either a sense of confusion, or the feeling that it’s an over-hyped phrase which is just a new way of describing what we do already – creating advertising which is relevant to the editorial experience. Read More »

The Agile Consumer: new attitudes

Chris Chalk is global chief strategy officer at Cheil Worldwide

chalk-chris-1280

One of the most interesting discussions at Adweek Europe last week was around ‘agility’ and what it means for businesses, brands and agencies. We’ve been tracking the agile consumer for some time and believe they will fundamentally change the way we work as marketers and communicators. Read More »

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