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Posts from December 2012

Our {Virgin} Digital Future

New digital future

When Richard Branson asks for your opinion on the digital give him one.

VirginMedia has a little project running about #ourdigitalfuture and they [in the person of the lovely Hannah] kindly asked me for some words. 

Since they are quite positive, they seemed to be a good NEW YEAR post. You can read them over on the VirginMedia site, or below. 


What’s the biggest difference the web has made to your life, and how do you think it has made the biggest positive difference to the world?

The evolution of all useful technology follows a similar trajectory: from novelty to necessity. The web has transformed so many elements of my life because Tim Berners Lee's open platform enables so many other people to build on it, who in turn have changed how I work, socialise, learn, and relax. 

I remember the first time I ordered toilet paper online. I had been buying things online for over a decade at that point, and yet there was something oddly poignant about how mundane that purchase was. The web is changing every little thing about how we relate to the world. 

I believe people are basically good, self-interested sure, but willing to help people out if that help seems meaningful and manageable. As Plato supposedly said; "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle". I believe exposure to different people and ideas makes us smarter and more tolerant.

For the first time in the history of our species, we are mostly connected. When television emerged it showed an entire generation what the world looked like for the first time. The web allowed us to talk to each other, to disseminate ideas, to reach out and connect to communities. 

So hopefully we will learn that we need each other, and need to need each other, to be human. 

"Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being." - Gandhi.

Is there anything that worries you about the internet and an increasingly digital society?

I'm a techno-meliorist. 

In general, I think technology has, overall, always made things better. We live at a moment where average life spans have never been higher, and infant mortality never been lower. Every new technology that impacts the world creates fears, especially for those who didn't grow up with it. 

Technology is "stuff that doesn't work yet", to quote Bran Ferrin, and part of what that means is finding the appropriate cultural responses to disruptive changes. 

Technology is a tool and is changing at the pace of Moore's Law. Culture moves more slowly, and this presents challenges. Online security is paramount when so much of our lives are online. Education and access are crucial. Helping young people develop skills that are relevant for tomorrow, not yesterday. 

And learning to turn off once in a while and be lost in our thoughts, not our screens, is something we will all need to master.

How do you think digital technology and the web can make life better in the future for you, the country, or the world?

In innumerable ways, of course. Opening up access to the government is an important step, re-building the relationship between government and the governed. Emancipating access to education, more effectively leveraging the cognitive surplus of humanity to solve the big challenges we will and are facing this century, as our population continues to bloom and the world remains the same size. 

Bringing every one of us something to smile at everyday, from a friend or distant youtube cat video creator, which shouldn't be overlooked. Creating services that are just intelligent enough to help us manage the content that constantly cries out for our attention. 

Reminding everyone person and nation state that there is no 'somewhere else' - we are all in this together. 

Oh and robots, of course. Definitely with robots. 


Get Home Safely

TAC_HomeSafely StKilda
The nice people at Naked Down Under have put together a rather lovely 'reverse polarity' campaign for the Transport Accident Authority to encourage people to get home safely.

Australia has long suffered with drink driving, causing many sad deaths every year - and the problem has been trending up

This campaign takes the idea a step further than putting social content into broadcast communication, for all the very good reasons we discussed in the previous reverse polarity post

The work sollicits real people to submit messages to specific loved ones, which will then be used in outdoor media on their routes home, and in radio spots, played during their normal commute times so they will see it or here it while driving.

Beyond the spot-on integrated content and context communications planning, the psychology here is smart, [it should be, since one of the partners at Naked Australia is a qualified forensic psychologist] and writ large in the solliciting spot above - by getting a real person to address another real person, even if that person isn't you, it turns statistics into narrative, into people.

Our brains don't handle statistics well, but they do like stories, about people. In fact, Kahneman has shown that we are in fact likely to believe individual stories in favor of statistics to the contrary - it's one of those delightful heuristics that warp our perceptions of reality and ourselves.

I also think that this works by interrupting what I've called the I'm Special Bias [a variant of the Lake Wobegone effect] - your brain believes people die because of drink driving, but it also, secretly, believes that this doesn't really apply to you, because, well you are special. 

When you hear the message from Caitlan to her Dad, you stop being special, stop being a statistic, and become someone's Dad. 

Get #homesafely this holiday season.

Being Good for Business: Admap Prize 2013

Admap Prize 2013
Earlier this year Admap ran their inaugural essay contest on the Future of Planning [which, as I discussed in the post below, often really means the confusing present]. 

I wrote a paper about the fragmentation of strategy, looking to incorporate modern psychology and behavioral economic insight into our advertising, and the impact of technology and that.

They've asked me to judge to the next one, alongside Gareth Kay, Colin Mitchell, Guy Murphy and other people much smarter than I, which is nice. 

The brief for this one is:

There is a $5000 prize for the winning paper, and the top papers will be published in Admap. You can get more details over on WARC - the deadline is JANUARY 31st.

You should enter

This is a topic close to my heart.

A long time ago, when I got into advertising, I decided that I would prefer it if, and therefore I believe that, and work towards the idea that advertising can be a force for good.

[I mean, who wants to do something that' good? 

NOTE: This parenthesis got out of control and has turned into An Apologia For Advertising, which should probably be published seperately.

Feel free to jump to the end, where it has a couple of paragraphs that might help if you are entering the ADMAP prize. 

Despite loving both Bill Hicks and George Carlin, I don't think that's their side is the whole story.

Communication, even commercial communication, doesn't seem to me to be inherently bad.

Like, say, technology, or any tool, it's what you do with it, and how you do it, and how you think of people, and what kind of person you end up becoming because of it.

Advertising can make you cyncial, all jobs can, but if you can aspire to: look yourself in the mirror and see the kind of person your 8 or 14 year old self would not hate; not lie or cheat, on clients or your partner[s]; treat people and customers and clients and vendors and the audience with respect; not attack people or people's work; not be petty and cruel; be open to the opinions of others and be wiling to change your mind; not worship money above friendship or honor; not let your heart get hard; stay in love with creativity; spend time working for the good of the industry, especially the young people, as well as for your own career and the agency; treat people as ends in themselves, not simply means; and remain thankful that there are jobs that let you have ideas for a living and wear jeans and T-shirts to work....then advertising is a fine profession and one to be proud of. 

The lubrication of capitalism, the creation of experiential emotional value around product consumption, the ability to deploy and navigate commercial signs in culture and let people use them to understand themselves and each other - these are necessary functions in our culture.

For as long as art and culture has existed, patronage has been required to help support it and, in the absence of kings, in times of economics uncertainty, in almost every arena of culture brand sponsorship is what keeps museums open, writers and artists in work, and your favorite website or app in business. 

Yes we create exhortations to BUY. And yes the world has lots of problems and too much stuff, at least in our parts of it. But advertising is, like law and banking, something that keeps the wheels going around.

Unlike law and banking, however, it's hard to use it really screw up the economy. At least, directly. What we do is done in the public eye, by definition. 

If you don't want to live in a hyper-capitalist culture, that's great, you are lucky enough to be in a free enough society [probably, if you are reading this] where you can choose, and every dollar you spend is a vote for the kind of society you want to live in. 

There's nothing sadder, or more detrimental for the ad industry, than the self hating, advertising despising, ad man. 

As Cindy Gallup has pointed out, we need to stop communicating the idea "that advertising is a very bad thing".

And that starts with us. 

Anyway, I digress, because that's not the same thing as social good.

The brief contains an inherent assumption, that there is a tension between maximising profits and doing social good.

You can track this dialectic back at least to Milton Friedman, and, by a remarkable coincidence, a few months back I published a paper examining this, and providing a squaring of that circle, looking at the business case for doing good

This may be of use, if you choose to enter, since I'm one of the judges and that. 

{Remember, like any piece of communication, when writing your essay, you are writing for an audience.]

Highly Evolved Luxury

A while back I gave the keynote at the Luxury Marketing Council Summit in NYC. 

As is so often the case, I was asked to talk about the future of...

[this often, in turn, really means the confusing present.

As Wiliam Gibson recently pointed out...

{I haven't used a Gibson quote for ages, because I used to hammer his distributed future present line so much.} 

...the present is so weird, we spend a lot of time, leveraging our collective imagination, crafting theory and story to help explain it to ourselves.

But, then again, we always have.] 

luxury, and how luxury and social media might intertwine. 

In order to look forward, we must look back.

Not just because history repeats, either as farce or burp...

Does history repeat iself, the first time as tragedy, the second times as farce?  

 No, that's too grand, too considered a process.  History just burps, and we taste again the raw-onion sandwich it swallowed centuries ago.

- Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

...but because without knowing what came, what was, how can we undertstand if things are different? 

I looked at the history of luxury brands, using Louis Vuitton and Prada as cases.  

Louis Vuitton is the world's most valuable luxury brand, and has been for the last 6 years.

Mr Louis Vuitton Malletieir was a French luggage designer who noticed that traditional luggage trunks had rounded tops [because, when travelling by horse drawn wagon, it was useful to have a top that rain slid off] but that in the new age of steam and rail, they were a headache because you can't stack them. 

So he invented, or at least popularized, a flat top canvas trunk, for the modern world.

It was so succcesful, it was widely imitated. 

In fact, the LV ligature was something he came up with to stop people copying his design, or passing off on his reputation. 

Yes, there are obviously Jobsian parallels here, and it's an historical burp that one of the most imitated, copied logos in the world was invented precisely to prevent such knock offs [as all logos were in some sense] but they in turn became the easiest thing to copy and stick on anything to create knock-offs.

When you saw the LV you knew you were getting the craft of the master, not some other flat top trunk imitator. 

At least, back then. 

Luxury brands still hark back to craft, and provenance, and exclusivity, to justify the incredible mark up on the cost of production they charge.

This is why luxury brands have been historically reticent to play online.

Inherently democratic spaces make them feel uncomfortable

But, as the Murikami LV Mercedes in the deck was intended to show, luxury brands have evolved way beyond this, to symbols. 

[When an artist and another company makes the product the symbol is on, it's hard to argue it denotes craft or provenance, but clearly it means something.] 

So, as department stores did before them, a new set of intermediaries have sprung up, disintermediating the customer from the luxury brand. 

And, in the final act, I suggest gently that social media can be and are being used to diseminate the stories of luxury brands in a direct, modern way, that is enhancing their symbolic value and indeed changing the boundaries of and players in what is considered 'luxury'. 


Were you surpised that APPLE was the number one top of mind luxury brand for young high net worth consumers?


If you are interested in booking me for a keynote, you can check out what some people have said, see some examples and get in touch here