Telling the difference between White and Wrong: why Google’s customisable homepage is a personalisation too far


it's strange how accustomed we become to the world…  here I am, comfortably confident in my ability – despite being old enough to remember Return of the Jedi at the Cinema first time round – to live and breathe as a digital native.  I'm down with the kids.  I'm adaptable.  I'm a fluid kind of guy.

only it turns out that I'm not.

above is what my Google search page now looks like.  it's like that because you can now customise it to have any picture you want as a background.  as Marissa Mayer, VP Search Products & User Experience explains on a post, Google has always "enjoyed making your search experience more relevant, useful and fun through personalization" … this new feature … "brings a whole new level of personalization to Google by letting you add a favorite photo or image to the background of the Google homepage".

I don't like it.  I don't like it one bit.  to risk over-using a pun, it's just not white.

the white Google page is (was) important.  there was a clarity, a sharpness to the site that was an intrinsic part of Google's brand DNA; part of its engram – that collection of associations we all carry around in our heads that captures for each of us what a brand is, means, and does.  Google's white helped define that, but more than that, Google's white was iconic.

but this importance of Google's white seems to have been ignored by the organisation.  this it may come to regret.  personalisation and customisation are great, brilliant things.  but not always.

in an article in Intelligent Life a while back, Jonathan Meades' discussed the pervasiveness of the word 'iconic' from Jesus to Obama (via Marmite and Beckham).  a great article that I blogged about at the time.

Meades outlined four conditions necessary for something to be (or be perceived as) iconic.  condition four is immediacy of recognition.  common in objects – the Coca-Cola bottle, the Eiffel tower, Big Ben – but because of the demand of immutability less so in humans, unless they're dead of course.  Meades asks for "the visual equivalent of an unmistakable catchphrase, such as … David Owen's "When I was Foreign Secretary" or Andie McDowell's "Because I'm worth it" … if a catchphrase is a repetitive soundbite, then an icon is a strenuously rehearsed sightbite".

a strenuously rehearsed sightbite, that helps maketh the icon.  and Google just threw it out.

Meades goes on to describe how "in an age of ever-multiplying media outlets, with images disseminated ever more easily, there are ever more potential low-key idols … virtual villages will increasingly make icons of figures that are peculiar to them, just as real villages did in the distant past when the people in the next valley paid obeisance to an alien gamut of gods and totems.  the more the media grow, the less appropriate the prefix "mass".  the globalisation of localism and, beyond that, of atomisation will very likely mean that such niche characterisations as "a living legend among the vertical matrixing community" [or] "an iconic figure in Gremlin Pastures" can be made without leaden irony."

at the time I noted that its a fascinating observation: a long tail of idolism.  the fewer, globally recognised icons sitting alongside the famous-to-a-few icons of our immediate communities and social groups.  I asked if the always-on proximity and ubiquity of the stuff we connect ourselves to is making icons of the people and places around us?  whether the immediacy of a host of personal – and in this case personalised – icons, devalues the idea of an icon, or adds meaning and value to it?

Google may find out.  the hard way.

advertising, branding, broadcasting, converging, printing

Things we never thought we’d see # 15: Why Google’s use of press proves that media probably never was and certainly won’t ever be simple ever again

great brands don't need to advertise.  right?  great brands generate their own publicity.  great brands grow through word of mouth.  great brands invest in innovation which gets itself talked about.  great brands activate their networks, excite their advocates and set the Twittersphere ablaze.

great brands pity lesser brands that need to resort to broadcast advertising to get their products and services in front of the masses because they haven't mastered the new media economy.  great brands don't advertise, right?  …wrong:


Emily FK kindly sent me the attached today (yesterday…) from London…  Google.  advertising.  with a cover wrap.  on the Metro.  things we really, really, never thought we'd see.

on viewing it I recalled an ancient Chinese curse that goes along the lines of "may you live in interesting times".  they didn't value change did the ancient Chinese.  boy are we collectively cursed – interesting times indeed.  one of two things is happening here, you can take your pick…

option one: the Google (money) train is faltering.  their core business of search continues, of course, to be a juggernaut that is in very good health.  but could the non-core products and services that are fueled by the juggernaut be feeling a little more heat?

its the only realistic explanation…  despite coming from the fine-tuned stable of Goggle new media marketing, Chrome has failed to get traction in the marketplace.  the very handy market share reports that Chrome's current share is hovering at 3%, compared to Firefox's 23% plus and the collective Explorers' best part of 60%…


three percent.  that's a figure that Google executives haven't seen for a while and no doubt has them spooked.  they need more than 3% and they're going to throw money at getting it, because the information about what we browse, what we do and who we are is invaluable; and in Google's hands its game-changing.

the reasons as to why traction hasn't been hit could be numerous and are almost certainly a combination of apathy, familiarity with existing browser, anti-Googleness ("they've got enough information already" kind of thing), and perhaps even awareness.  one would hope that the latter has some part to play, for I fear for the ability of a press cover wrap to make a major dent in any of the other potential barriers.

there is of course option two…  that in the evolution of media and communication, there's a need for both sides of the equation.  or indeed every side of the cube if you get what I mean.  that its not enough for a brand to be a 'broadcast' brand or a 'networked' brand.  all this could mean that there's a time and a place for one to many, as well as a time and a place for many to many.

option two could mean that there's there's no such thing as old and new media.  there is only media.  media thats owned and rented out at a negotiated CPT by big business.  media that's made by individuals with a passion and an opinion or two.  media created by brands that they can subsequently own and leverage to tell the world why they exist.  media that we respect, share, love to hate, assume credibility, trash, believe, pass on, or – indeed – read on our way to work before logging on and checking out a new browser.

Google advertising on Metro.  proof, like we needed it, that media probably never was and certainly won't ever be simple ever again.

blogging, branding, broadcasting, listening, social networking

Twitter’s ascent: why the emergence of this best kind of media space means brands have never had it so good

and so to Twitter, which – thanks to, in part, Obama, Ross and Fry – post a 27-fold increase in the last 12 months is now the seventh most popular SN site in the UK.  with such growth has come the inevitable and necessary Campaign article on how brands can capitalise on this particular bit of media evolution.

some sense talked by Robin "have genuine conversations with people … show your real personality and allow people to connect with you" Grant and Faris "we've got to earn attention by being entertaining, useful and also nice" Yakob. 

but also some craziness bounded about by Dare's Flo "create a fake receptionist" Heiss and internet consultant David "don't anthropomorphise it, what if an inanimate object was to Tweet" Bain.  the question of how much fun a social network would be if inanimate objects Tweeted aside, (although its not entirely mad – my fridge for example; "feeling great today post a thorough defrosting and clean out yesterday, brrrrr – life good" or my Wii "exhausted post Chris playing for sixteen hours non-stop on Super Mario Galaxy – still at least he's completed it now and he and I can get back on with our lives"), the question remains why, when and how should brands enter the Twittersphere?

the debate is picked up in a post on Robin's We Are Social blog, where he makes two important points: (1) a brand's Twitter strategy should be built around the business objectives its trying to achieve, and (2) the hard work only really begins when you're up and out there creating and managing the day after day micro-interactions with real

its worth reading down the comments, one by Adriana Lukes struck me as particularly relevant:

"If you think about brand as identity and branding as behaviour lots of
the idiotic advice rightly ridiculed in the post just looks absurd.
Fictional or inanimate characters' behaviour fools no one and is just
another tool in the messaging toolbox. And one-way communication is
messaging, two-way communication is behaviour. Twitter is rather
supercharged on that front…"

the evolution of media and communications and the fragmentation of
channels and empowerment of consumers that has come with it, is not a
beast to be grappled with.  rather its a gift to be embraced.

we need to change our collective idea of what 'broadcasting our brand communications' means.  from… a single-minded focus on one-to-many (with things like Twitter playing around the edge), to… having and using a tapestry of touchpoints by which to reach existing and potential customers.

TV ads and Twitter should be part of the same plan, because they come from the same place – the brand, and more specifically the reason for being & idea that sit behind that brand.  understanding and continually and consistently articulating that idea is what will align 'one-to-many' as well as 'many-to-many' touchpoints.

Twitter isn't something 'else'… like so many emerging platforms its the best kind of brand space; a space where you're forced to be relevant, interesting and polite, but most of all a space where the people you're so desperate to talk to, can talk back.  we've never had it so good.

advertising, blogging, branding, broadcasting, content creating, converging, engaging, listening, planning, regulating, researching, social networking, user-generating

Fighting the Future: reaching a rose-tinted concensus at the IPA 44 Club’s Future of Advertising in a Networked Society

A short history of marketing from jabi on Vimeo.

the rather lovely above video – by jabi – neatly sums up the collective dilemma of how brands, marketers and, specifically, agencies address the challenge of social media.  the issue was the topic of discussion last night at the IPA 44 Club's inaugural event of 2009:
The future of advertising in a networked society.  quite the session it was… here's the gist:

part one – report findings

  • social media = the online tools and platforms people use to share information, thoughts, opinions, content etc
  • problems is that brands are "crashing the party rather than hosting it" (Russell Davies)
  • many brands are experimenting but not getting traction in the area
  • we need a model of comms that reflects 'ME' as opposed to 'brand'
  • a model that's about conversation and participation rather than interruption and engagement
  • a model that incorporates David Armano's thinking about 'influence ripples'
  • Johnny X by Dare is a cracking example
  • which succeeded in concentrating the feeds into and out of it's online space (64% of upstream and 84% of downstream feeds came from 10 sites each)
  • planning social media should focus on targeting the few, that demonstrate: (1) expansiveness (propensity to chatter), (2) popularity (propensity to filter and target) and (3) reciprocity (likelihood to act)
  • network size is predictable, as is network flow, as is circulation

part two – agency survey

  • brands in a socially-networked world are more responsible for creating and disseminating the right information – brands should be more discretionary in what they produce [Mediation found this less than substantiated and at odds with Clay Shirky's comments at the MGEITF this year on filtering in a content-abundant world being after the fact, ie produce then allow the network to filter]
  • the way to reward brand advocates is not through financial incentive
  • the industry disagrees on two areas: (1) that advertising principles are the same in a networked society and (2) that social media behaves in a fundamentally new way
  • it is believed that most revenue is up for grabs in content creation, then data & insight, then market research & insight gathering (amongst others)
  • these new revenue streams represent £11bn of additional revenue opportunity, with another £5bn potentially
  • …which would be (exactly!) enough to meet the £16bn shortfall in industry revenues by 2016 predicted by the IPA's Future of Advertising and Agencies report of two years ago (£16bn = the difference between the IPA's 'Central' and 'Consumer' Scenarios)

part three – the discussion

I won't bullet this because it's getting late and you had to be there, but this was the better part of the evening with discussion ranging between philosophy of brands in a social media space to the (inevitable) measurement and accountability of such activity.

for me a kind of rose-tinted consensus was reached; consensus that went along the lines of:

  • marketing has always been about great social networking, the challenge is the same – getting the right content in the right place, its just that…
  • (1) people power is more potent (we have 500 networked connections not 50 disparate ones) and (2) we need to react to the context our message are in rather than control the context our messages are in
  • it's brilliant because we can react to real people in real time in the context of a real conversations
  • social media isn't a bolt on, it has to be woven into every brand touchpoint
  • brands need to behave differently, and understand that their relationship with consumers is – to consumers – much less important than consumers' relationships with other consumers

so in a nutshell social media is great because it's as old as the hills, better than the disruption model, measurable …and there's a freak-off big commercial opportunity for the brands and agencies that get it right.

I just don't think that it' that easy.  our industry is woefully
unprepared for the future.  there's some brilliant thinking and debate
going on, but the commercial models, joined-up industry measurement
systems, and marketing best practice principles – from a 'what works'
as opposed to a 'self-regulatory' point of view – just aren't moving
fast enough.

most importantly, not enough consideration was given
to the integration of broadcast and social media.  they're not going to
exist in isolation and broadcast media is going nowhere. iTunes didn't
kill CDs and Amazon didn't kill Waterstones.  social media certainly
won't kill mainstream broadcast media; the same mainstream broadcast
media that in the vast majority of instances provides social media
users with the content they comment on, pass on, or reappropriate for
their own ends.

the other interesting question is how the
behaviour of digital natives will evolve…  we're familiar with the
media 'hubs' that are the current crop of adolescent's bedrooms;
they're multi-tasking away across ten devices and infinite bits of
content.  but what happens when they grow-up?  how much of their social
media behaviour will they take with them into adulthood and how much
will they replace with the aggregated broadcast consumption of their

we live in interesting times; and I guess we wouldn't have it any other way.

one last word, I urge you to read JVW's post
about the event and specifically his debate on how the IPA can use social media
to get their social media report into more people's hands whilst not
impacting on revenues.  a pleasure and a joy.

ad funded programming, advertising, branding, broadcasting, content creating, converging, engaging, gaming, innovating, internet, planning

From theory to practice: the challenge of planning Transmedia

Keith Arem's graphic novel Ascend, for which a game is currently in development

it's now been over two years since Faris bought transmedia planning to our attention in his post of the same name on TIGS.  the theory has been well expounded in the period since then; with

I'm sure that the idea of TP has cropped up in most media, comms and ad agencies by now…  it certainly has in Mediation's.  but we've yet to see – as far as I can make out – a significant campaign emerge based on TP principles.  the same is actually true of the entertainment industry; in an interview with Games TM magazine(edition 75), Henry Jenkins – the Godfather of TP – concedes that truly persuasive examples have yet to arrive.

they're doing better than us though.  transmedia planning should be everywhere by now.  the theory is familiar and is not only relatively unchallenged, but is offers the very solution to some of the biggest marketing challenges of the moment.  of its many advantages, the primary benefit has to be the extent to which it pays back on the time taken to consume it.  Jenkins goes on to observe that "regardless of the commercial motives behind it, transmedia entertainment done well also provides rewards for fans".

so why is getting the theory working in practice so difficult?  here's some starters for ten…

firstly, the financial investment required.  the reason the best examples of TM largely remain in the entertainment arena (the Matrix, Cloverfield, Heroes, Lost etc) because it takes a significant chunk of investment to develop and then create the content often required.  the commercial models for Fox or Paramount are set up to do this, the commercial models for marketeers often aren't.

but this is a bit of a cop out.  for the cost of making three 30 second ads you can certainly afford to make an episodic drama for online distribution.  and no it doesn't matter if it's not going to go on broadcast TV because those people who consume AV content online are exactly those people most likely to 'get' transmedia narratives…  this means of course that the media budgeting has to evolve just as much as the production pot.

no, the real issues in making TP happen lie much closer to home than 'we don't have the budget' territory.  they are twofold, the first of which is we're bound to the conventions of the media spaces we use.  in the Games TM article mentioned above, .  he observes that:

"if a project requires a 30-minute budget introduction, games can do that, but the medium could just as easily offer six high-budget five-hour episodes to revolutionise the story.  film and television are still limited by rigid series structures and minimum lengths".

advertisers on those channels are bound by those same conventions; conventions we as an industry – planners, buyers and media-owners (and indeed Ofcom) alike need to start challenging.  it's the limitations of the spot model that in many cases is preventing transmedia's breakthrough into broadcast channels; and as long as transmedia only exists online, it's unlikely to capture the imagination of marketeers or the budgets of FDs.

but the final barrier to making TM happen in brand comms is the closet to home of all.  Jenkins notes that TM experiences can "be a source of … frustration [for consumers] if it's inconsistent, undermines the coherence of the work, or promises insights it never delivers".  Arem's solution is simple: "have a good team of like-minded individuals around you … my philosophy for all of our projects is to have a core team to supervise all creative and technical aspects of the production.  the main focus of that team is to keep the story and assets consistent, and integrate them with the entire franchise".

I think you know where I'm going with this.  agency structures are lucky if they can do this internally let alone with other agencies, resulting in the presention of a joined up and unified transmedia solution to a client.  not only might different creative agencies have to work to one vision, but that vision has to be molded by the space planned by its media agency, and of course vice versa.

the reality is that as long as the conversation with a client only gets as far as "how big is the pack shot?", both agencies and clients will be bound to a dynamic that not only acts as a barrier to transmedia planning, but actively works against it emerging into the mainstream where it so surely deserves to belong.

branding, promoting

Red Cups have arrived: how Starbucks attach themselves to winter festivities

'White is out for the season' according to Starbucks who today roll-out their red cups across the land.  in store promotions as well as press campaign have been reminding us all that Gingerbread lattes et al will once again be available from today and for the duration of the season.

I don't want to like this, but you really can't help but admire the simple communication which not only taps into the very physical markers of darker nights and colder mornings, but also the emotional anticipation of the festive season to come.

as far as Chrimbo commerciality goes its right up there with Coca-Cola's trucks and the now (very quickly established) M&S effort.  and quite right too…  brands – whether you like it or not – are part of the Chrimbo spirit.  some brands are as emotionally connected to Christmas celebrations as the products they sell are to the physicality of it all.

it may just be a red cup, but the emotive place it comes from means much more.  it's a signal, a kick start, an announcement that holidays truly are coming…

advertising, branding, innovating

How not to make ads: why randomised communications don’t work

Ad_generatorthe Ad Generator is a brilliant application created by Alexis Lloyd, a a multimedia designer, information architect, and new media artist, who describes how…

"Words and semantic structures from
real corporate slogans are remixed and randomized to generate invented slogans.
These slogans are then paired with related images from Flickr, thereby generating
fake advertisements on the fly. By remixing corporate
slogans, I intend to show how the language of advertising is both deeply meaningful,
in that it represents real cultural values and desires, and yet utterly meaningless
in that these ideas have no relationship to the products being sold."

it's a fascinating idea, and it completely works as art (and even as a nifty screen saver if browsing in Firefox you press F11), but the product doesn't cut it as ads.  the assertion is flawed; the idea that "these ideas have no relationship to the products being sold" is from an age long-ago abandoned, if indeed it ever existed.

John Grant in After Image articulated that, instead of relying on the traditional (image-based) approach, brands should direct their efforts at building
shared meaning and learning as the basis for marketing.  this was after 'image'.  and you can't randomise words and pictures to create shared meaning and learning.  as Faris would observe; brands are ideas, and people have an intrinsically participatory relationship with ideas.  not with random words and pictures.

as for me, I believe that the role for brands is twofold: that brands give people reasons to be loyal to a product or service, and further that brands provide an affirmation of our purchase decisions.  as such, adverts are what brands say.  you can't create that from the ether.  whether or not you resonate with and believe them is another thing, but you can't random up an ad.

advertising, branding, praising

In praise of… the old-fashioned tease campaign currently proffering a little mystery to our post-information age

there's nothing Mediation likes more than a decent tease campaign, and this one has certainly been splashing itself around London's transport network at the moment.  tube card panels, cross-track 48s and station dominations have all been showing images of Obama outside No. 10, golden footballs, overweight kids and what I think is a pic of the magnets from the new large Hadron Collider at CERN.

the tease (then reveal) model is as old as the hills; use the medium of outdoor to tease the public with non-branded images that provoke questions as to what they are, and why they're there…  and of course which brand they're for!

it's an approach that's increasingly rare these days.  partly I guess due to the requirement for more demonstrable returns on investment (essentially with this strategy you're paying for the space twice), but it's also a model that has somewhat been reversed in recent times…

its Fallon's fault.  ever since the set of their San Fransisco Balls effort was captured and posted before the ad was released, it's become somewhat fashionable to do the opposite of the tease model.  now several brands advertise the making of the ad… on-set photos of the recent M&S summer ad for example made the national press.

I guess that why I like this campaign.  not only is it demonstrating confidence with it's investment, but in a post-information hyper-transparent age it proffers a little mystery to a sometimes all-too-knowing media landscape.


29.9.08 supplemental:

the campaign is for The Times.  sales and marketing director of Times Media Katie Vanneck as quoted in an article on Brand Republic:
"The Times is the only national daily without a dogma — the paper does
not tell you what to think but encourages the reader to question and to

"We wanted to reflect this ethos of 'show and not
tell' in our brand campaign which is why we have gone for strong,
simple images that set you questioning and thinking.

"We want readers to think again about our times and to think again about The Times"

…mission – I suggest – accomplished.  thanks to Eva for the comment on the post and the heads up…

branding, broadcasting

Visa settle for Silver as the BBC takes Gold in Olympic branding negotiation

all smiles; announcing the acts for the VISA London 2012 party in July

in a few hours the Olympic Games will be handed over from Beijing to London.  to celebrate, the city is hosting a party on the Mall.  McFly and The Feeling are going to play.  its all very exciting for everyone taking part.

its also been an exciting time for Visa – the corporate sponsor of the party – and the BBC.  they've had to come to an agreement over the prominence of Visa's branding on the stage.  why?  because its going to be broadcast live on BBC One and Radio 2, and the presence of Visa's branding contravenes BBC's editorial guidelines on product visibility.

this is only the earliest of many negotiations that brands will be engaged with over the coming four years in the run up to and during the 2012 Olympics.  in the wake of TV trust scandals over the last few years – and specifically the BBC / Robinsons association (read: sponsorship) of Sports Personality of the Year controversy – the BBC is more keen than ever to ensure that its seen to be upholding its own standards of non-commerciality.

but this poses a big problem for LOCOG and Olympic sponsor brands… how many future marketing opportunities are going to be compromised because of the BBC's stance?  the contradiction that lies at the heart of the debate is that the BBC is the broadcast partner of a commercial event.  LOCOG has to facilitate a better deal on this… Visa has given the most ground this time – but we need to avoid setting a dangerous and potentially costly precedent.

advertising, branding, broadcasting, internet, planning, viewing

Negotiating the digital divide: why immigrant brands must learn to go native

Natives going to meet the Spanish navy in 1792 (source)

the Pew Research Centre's biennial report into the
changing nature of news audiences has confirmed what we've known for a while;
that a generation of digital natives are growing up demanding immediacy and
plurality of content.  the report described 13% of the US public as 'net newsers'; under
35, affluent, and sceptical of many of the mainstream media's offerings.

it comes hot on the heels of last week's report by Ofcom which confirmed what
TGI and CCS have been telling us for a while…  that as our world shifts
from one ruled by digital immigrants to one dominated by digital natives, an
entire generation are defaulting to multi-tasking their media consumption.

this isn't just behavioural – our brains are physically adapting to enable us
to compulsively multitask.  digital technology changes the way we absorb
information.  as such – as Lord Saatchi was reported as pointing out in 2006 – the digital native’s brain is
physically different; “It has rewired itself. It responds faster. It sifts out.
It recalls less.”

the fact that recall rates for traditional television advertisements have
plummeted led Lord Saatchi to the conclusion that companies must now be able to
sum up their brands in a single word if they are to grab the attention of
restless digital natives, but this is to miss the point…

if digital natives demand multiplicity, brands – far from retreating to one-word over-simplification – must give it to them.  both
the above reports confirm that TV remains predominant in the media consumption
habits of digital natives.  in the UK we're watching more TV than ever;
communicating to digital natives doesn't mean abandoning TV as a means with
which to communicate; rather it means using it in conjunction with other media
channels – specifically the internet.

brand communications need plurality
– the notion of what constitutes 'critical mass' within a media channel has to
be rethought and replaced with consideration as to what constitutes critical
mass across channels.

some may not like this compulsive plurality of consumption – in his G2 column
last week, Alexander Chancellor bemoaned a "compulsion to keep in
touch" liking it to a "kind of disease".  "Addiction
to communication" he comments "seems to me as dangerous as addiction
to cigarettes or alcohol".

as hard as it may be for digital immigrants to comprehend, consistent and
constant consumption of content is as natural to digital natives as
breathing.  both immigrants and brands has better get used to it.