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Posts from October 2008

Happiness Brands

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: 2008 summit)

I saw Jane McGonigal speak this morning at the Boards Summit.

She was completely awesome. She calls herself a happiness hacker [this may be even better than being a ninja].

She did a version of the speech Dan transcribed from SXSW, tailored to advertisers and brand agents and the makers of brand stuff.

However she has also posted her slides this time - above.

I love the idea that we are Happiness Engineers.

She makes the point that the reason games are so passionately enjoyed by millions of people is that that games engage all the reward mechanisms in your brain in a structured way - they are happiness engines.

So applying some of these mechanisms in other ways, in the world, could make people's lives more fun, less boring, more satisfying and that by providing an alternate way to experience the world:

A brand is defined by how great an increase in real happiness, or well-being it generates - because happiness is the new capital.

Myth of the Near Future

[Hello Readers of Strategy Magazine! If you found this post from the article - welcome!]

A while back I made this film to describe how I saw the world of brands, media, communication, technology and that in 2010.

[I didn't actually make it. I wrote a script and then said what I wanted in it and how I wanted it to look. Then a nice production company made it.]

It pulls together a lot of things that tend to pop up on TIGS, envisaging an always on, hyperconnected world, divided between the participatory and the passive, with brands seeking new ways to communicate, new roles and new kinds of relationships.

At the time, a year ago or so, 2010 seemed really far away - now it's almost next year.

Part of the conceit of the film is derived from my thesis, in the sense of that now worn-out phrase of Wlliam Gibson's: The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed.

Almost everything in the film is already happening among small pockets of [mostly] younger people - it just sounds like science fiction.

The future is now. Or at least very soon.

[Youtube version is here]

Treading the Boards

Boards Summit

I'm speaking at the Boards Summit on Friday.

Jane McGonigal is the keynote speaker and she is awesome.

I'm on a panel discussing how to 'Spread the Good Word': how do you get your 'big idea' out to consumers in a digital world.

I'm not sure I have the answer but fortunately there are some very smart people on the panel who should be able to shed some light on the whole thing, or at least have some interesting conversations about it. 

Come up and say high if you are going to be there.

The Invisible Web

Invisible Web

Last week I had a piece in Campaign magazine in the UK about my Digital Viewpoint.

This is a new series they are running every once in a while which ask someone to paint a portrait of the future - how they see the digital landscape developing.

Mine focused on the web becoming invisible.

Invisible technology is a concept coined by Heidegger to describe tools that stop being tools and become integral aspects of how we live in and experience the world, extensions of ourselves.

His example is a blind person's cane. My point was that only when the web is as integrated as that, in ways that are hinted at by the 'mobile' web and augmented reality applications, will we really understand the impact it will make on the world.

At the end it gets a bit Matrix but that's what I think is going to happen. Serious. You ain't seen nothing yet.

Have a look and let me know what you think:

The Invisible Web

I'm the second in the series. The first piece was written by Vint Cerf - one of the guys who invented the Internet.

Not the web - that was Tim - but the INTERNET. He helped create the TCP/IP protocols and is known as the father of the Internet.

He's now Chief Internet Evangelist at Google.

Having me follow him is an hilariously bathetic shift in register but I couldn't be more honoured to type in his wordsteps:

Vint Cerf's Digital Viewpoint

The Global Brand and Fuzzy Branding

What is a brand

A few days ago a nice publicist sent me a copy of The GLOBAL BRAND by Nigel Hollis, Chief Global Analyst at Millward Brown.

I was looking through the first few pages and there, to my vainglorious joy and utter surprise, was a quote from TIGS about the nature of brands as socially constructed ideas.

Awesome, I thought, especially the bit about oversimplifying, I so rarely get accused of that - I wonder what the rest is about.

The gist of it is about how to manage global brands, with all the inherent difficulties of creating an idea that works amongst very different, disparate, distinct groups.

So I sent Nigel some questions about it and he kindly sent some replies.

Here's what he said:

How does ethnographic context affect the nature of communication needed?

Ethnographic context has a critical influence on the nature of successful brand communication. Communication is integrally bound up with culture — our collective needs, beliefs and values — and culture still differs dramatically from one social group to the next.

At the risk of turning off every agency planner reading this, let me quote a couple of stats from Millward Brown's Link pretest database. An analysis of the TV ads that tested exceptionally well in one country found that only one in five did so in another. Nearly 1 in 10 tested badly.

Why? Because social mores, references and humor differ from one country to the next. We can't assume that what worked well in one country will work well in another.

How can a single brand appeal to diverse groups around the world that may differ in terms of attitudes or ethnicity?

I think the real question is, should a brand try to appeal to such disparate groups? Strong, successful brands need to stand for something. A brand that tries to appeal to different groups runs the risk of diluting the clarity of its positioning.

But really, it depends on your brand, category and context. How important is it that your brand is understood the same way in different countries? Consider Bournvita, the malted chocolate beverage. In the U.K., it is thought to give you a good night's sleep, while in Nigeria it substitutes for Viagra, and in India it makes your kids smart.

Is it a bad thing for the brand to be viewed differently in these different countries? I doubt it — although I might not recommend the UK positioning, since the brand has been discontinued there and growth in emerging markets was reported to be 47% in 2007.

On the other hand, it would be a problem for a brand that has international business clients, such as Accenture, to show a different face to those clients in each country they visited.

You cite McDonald's as an example of a company that balances a global brand identity with adapting to local tastes. How has McDonald's achieved this?

McDonald's boasts that it serves 50 million people every day at 31,900 locations in 118 countries. They couldn't do that without a very strong business model, and that's the foundation on which any strong brand is built.

McDonald's continues to invest in efficient systems and training to deliver on the promise of fast food that's enjoyable and a good value. Once the system is set up in a country, the chain can deliver a Big Mac, Chicken Maharaja Mac or a McTurco quickly and cheaply. Nor is McDonald's shy about experimenting with menu items, store design and communications to see what will work best.


Understanding local culture requires research, and you recommend that companies implement a global research program. What does this involve, and what are some of the challenges that researchers face?

I think a global research program is necessary when there is a need to compare performance across countries and cultures. Such comparisons would be called for in areas like brand equity research, tracking, and pretesting.

You need to be able to assess on a like-for-like basis whether a brand is strong or weak, whether attitudes are improving in all markets or not, or whether an ad will work well elsewhere. But when it comes to exploratory research, where the objective is understanding the local mindset, there can be a lot more leeway in the approach taken.

Researchers face two big issues in implementing global programs. First is the need to make comparisons that allow for cultural differences in answering questions, because, people respond to words and scales differently from country to country.

For example, "good" to the British equates to "excellent" among Mexicans. We need to make sure cross-country comparisons take those differences into account.

The second issue is the need to set aside prejudices and habitual ways of viewing the world. Researchers need to be aware that their assessment of results is heavily influenced by our own understanding and experience.

I have posted more information on how to conduct successful global research programs here.

Many companies don't have the time or the resources to tailor brands to individual countries and cultures. How can these companies find a balance between adapting to local needs and maintaining business efficiency?

This question gets asked a lot. The trouble is, it assumes that companies should do something even if they lack the resources to do it well.

First things first — you have to win locally before you can leverage efficiencies of scale. If your brand needs to be tailored, but you don't have the time or money to do it effectively, then don't do it.

In the long run, you will save a ton of money that would otherwise be wasted on products and services no one wants or communication that is off target. Focus on the markets where your product can succeed without adaptation.

So how do you know if you need to adapt your brand? Do your research. It's cheap by comparison to a failed launch. Find out what people really want, identify how to disrupt the existing status quo, and then test your execution – product, positioning and communication - against that objective.

The challenge comes when test results look just OK rather than great or terrible. In these cases, you have to give the benefit of the doubt to a global approach; otherwise you will lose all hope of retaining business efficiency.

Thanks Nigel! I shall read the rest in due course and let you know how it goes.

It occurs to me that there might be two approaches to global brands. Clarity, based on some simple human truth and that or something we'll call fuzzy branding.

Really global brands, Hello Kitty or Nike for example, as Rob Walker points out in Buying In, are undefined: they exploit vague meaning structures to encourage polysemous readings, which allows them to mean different things to different people in different contexts, as Nigel suggests about Bournvita above.

A bit like how Virginia Woolf claimed to handle symbolism as a nominally post-symbolist writer:

I can't manage symbolism except in this vague, generalised way. Whether it's right or wrong I don't know, but directly I'm told what a thing means, it becomes hateful to me.

Which seems like a useful guide when creating brand communication content.

Don't tell me what it means.

Give me some symbols.

Fund Mentalism

A couple of posts ago I mentioned the legendary Chris Morris, master satirist and media commentator, and mused about his current subversive machinations.

[See his classic take on the world of high finance above.]

Thanks to the awesomeness of the webnet, an anonymous Dan commented on the post and informed me that he is indeed up to something potentially even more contentious than the final Brasseye Special.

It's a satirical film about British Jihadists. Channel 4 declined to fund it, so Morris is hoping to crowdsource funding for the movie, like a Swarm of Angels before it. 

In order to offer support, email the address below and they will add you to the email list.

Morris explains the movie here:

Many people have asked us exactly what the Four Lions project is. Clearly we can’t launch the film before its been shot, but I’ve pulled together a few paragraphs from the paperwork that’s been flying around. 

Its shameless hype but its accurate – unlike almost everything you will have read in the press. No one who has read the script could disagree with a word here.

In three years of research, Chris Morris has spoken to terrorism experts, imams, police, secret services and hundreds of Muslims. Even those who have trained and fought jihad report the frequency of farce. At training camps young jihadis argue about honey, cry for their mums, shoot each other’s feet off, chase snakes and get thrown out for smoking.

A minute into his martyrdom video, a would-be bomber looks puzzled and says “what was the question again?” On millennium eve, five jihadis set out to ram a US warship. They slipped their boat into the water and carefully stacked it with explosives. It sank.

Terrorist cells have the same group dynamics as stag parties and five a side football teams. There is conflict, friendship, misunderstanding and rivalry. Terrorism is about ideology, but it’s also about berks.

Four Lions is a funny, thrilling fictional story that illuminates modern British jihad with an insight beyond anything else in our culture. It plunges us beyond seeing these young men as unfathomably alien. It undermines the folly of just wishing them away or alienating the entire culture from which they emerge. 

It understands how terrorism relates to testosterone. It understands jihadis as human beings. And it understands human beings as innately ridiculous.  As Spinal Tap understood heavy metal and Dr Strangelove the Cold War, Four Lions understands modern British jihadis.

As for your offer, we’re hoping to set up a one click pay scheme soon.

We’ll let you know.

Needless to say, I've committed my support.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to humanise the demonised.

Relationship Marketing

The blurring line between reality and fantasy is not a new idea.

One of the core Shakespeare topics you were taught at school was "Illusion versus Reality in {Insert play of your choice here}".

As well as a popular topic of narrative, it is also employed as a meta-narrative device. As long as there has been a fourth wall, people have insisted on breaking it.

What is new is the extent to which we now demand our narrative to actualise itself as reality, or at least alternate reality.

Where does the line get drawn?

I think it exists at the point of suspension, specifically the conscious suspension of disbelief.

Fiction is fun for all the family, and brands have a role here to craft narrative that engages and entertains, earning eyeballs. 

But the reason that above clip is funny and WRONG is because it is stealth marketing - lies not fiction.

We like stories, we don't like being fooled.

Since the foundation of branding is trust, it is an extremely inadvisable strategy to lie to people.

Or, to steal from Shakespeare:

Dissembling harlot! Thou are false in all.

However, we embrace elements from fiction and especially like pulling it into our lives, or encountering it in during our daily grind.

I wonder how Duff Beer would fare, if polled alongside real beers.

[Via MHB, who has more thoughts here]

Pet Food Store


On Sunday I stumbled into some kind of installation involving animatronic poultry.

I enjoy Robot Chicken so I went in.

It was odd. I think the idea was a pun on Pet Food Store - it claimed to be a shop but wouldn't sell me anything. Most of the animals in cages were processed food re-morphized into their pre-processed shape.

There was also a chimpanzee watching some female Bonobos doing GG touching as an analogue of lesbian pornography.

More pictures here. I didn't really get it, but I liked it nonetheless.

It's next door to this pub in case you are local.

View Larger Map

UPDATE: Turns out this is a BANKSY installation - details here. Thanks Leila.]