ad funded programming, advertising, branding, content creating, experiencing, planning, regulating, viewing

Transparency; how Mother’s Pot Noodle has it and MG OMD’s Beat: Life on the Street doesn’t

on a visit to Edinburgh's Fringe Festival this weekend Mediation was lucky enough to catch a performance of Pot Noodle: The Musical.  created by Mother Vision, the show is a surreal and entertaining hour long advert for Pot Noodle – and it doesn't really pretend to be anything else.  in fact its quite clear on the matter…  its an ad.  it knows it is.  its written in the script.

I couldn't help but contrast this to the recent discussion and debate there's been around MG OMD's AFP for the Home Office.  Beat: Life on the Street was a Sunday night show first broadcast last year on ITV.  the show is now reportedly being investigated by Ofcom amid concerns it broke the broadcasting code requiring that programmes "must not influence the content and/or scheduling of a channel or
programme in such a way as to impair the responsibility and editorial
independence of the broadcaster".

so what we have here are two very different bits of content, each designed to form part of the brand narrative for two very different organisations.  but whereas one has (at the time of writing) a two and a bit star rating on the Fringe website, the other is being investigated by the regulator.  what sent them in such different directions?

well… what divides them is transparency.  Pot Noodle's musical has it, and Beat: Life on the Street just doesn't.

you can't make a programme that's funded by the Government and which is specifically designed to change people's perceptions of a state organisation and not tell people thats what it is and what its trying to do.  that's not smart media planning, its propaganda.

what's such a shame is the strategy from MG OMD is great.  in a video on the site, Head of Strategy Jon Gittings comments that the aim of the the programme was to amplify the real experience the public has with PCSOs, to:

"use communication to recreate [the] direct content that would then go on to increase value [of PCSOs] … we would create virtual experiences that bring PCSOs and the community together"

thats great thinking.  de-branding it is not.  brands have to be explicit about their intent.  whether you make noodle snacks or uphold the law, you have to protect your integrity.  say what you like about Pot Noodle making a musical, they were up front about what they were doing…

as one comment on the Fringe site notes: "I doubt that i'll ever be convinced that branded shows at Edinburgh are
a good thing but i struggle to criticise when i'm entertained as such"

well I doubt that I'll ever need convincing that smart relevant content creation – including AFP – can play a part on many a schedule; but I'll sure as hell won't struggle to criticise it when brands and (worse) their agencies think they can do so without being honest about the communications' intent.


thanks to Phil who pointed me in the direction of a BBC report on Pot Noodle which includes an interview with the creatives from Mother who devised the thing…

advertising, branding

Why we have to be braver about brand communications that ‘might’ offend

you have to sympathise for creative agencies.  I don’t envy their position…  required as they are by clients to create things that get noticed but don’t cause controversy.  the most recent case in point is Mars who have pulled the above Snickers ad because it might offend the gay community.  is it offensive?  to speed-walkers possibly but certainly not, I suggest, to boys who like boys who like boys.

the key word here is ‘might’.  ‘might’ cause offence.  ‘might’ cause controversy.  well ads ‘might’ do a lot of things, but one of the things they ‘have’ to do is get noticed…  especially when said ad is for Snickers and therefore carries a need to convey macho, retrosexual, masculine tones.  what’s a creative agency to do?  make ads that get noticed but only get  talked about it the right way?  brands never had that kind of control, let alone thinking they have it in the digital age.

if there’s a problem here is not with ads.  its with one of two other things.  either (1) the brand positioning is wrong; if communications that establish then reinforce the positioning are being pulled then Mars has to ask themselves how sustainable this is in the long-run (they always ‘might’ piss someone off)

or (2) the problem lies with marketeers who lack the courage of their conviction to approve, run, and then ride the discussion and debate caused by their communications.  the more they pander to people who ‘might’ take offence, the more we move away from a culture that engages in and enjoys public debate.  and the harder it will be for creative agencies to produce genuinely ground-breaking and challenging work.

of course if a brand was really smart they’d make ads that engage by virtue of normalising (I use that word carefully) gay life.  the below was made by Guinness.  it challenges some whilst no doubt affirming the beliefs of others.  its a brilliant piece of brand communication.  its a shame Guinness never had the courage of their conviction and broadcast it.


The power of brand; as demonstrated by Picasso

I was browsing for a birthday card for my lovely friend Gina at the weekend and noticed this card.  I really wasn’t sure whether I liked it or not.  after some consideration I turned the card over to learn that the illustration is a Picasso.  upon receiving this information, I immediately decided that I liked it.

and that – it occurred to me – is as clear a demonstration as any I’ve seen, of the power of brand.

branding, engaging, praising

When Positionings Get Real. How Honda Show Their Power of Dreams.

gotta love Honda’s efforts.  having demonstrated their ‘Power of Dreams’ positioning thru several high-profile ads, they’ve taken the step of allowing their 4ft 3in ASIMO – which stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility – into the real world.

plenty of brands can talk at length about their positionings, but few get the chance to demonstrate it.  fewer still allow themselves the effort and energy to demonstrate it with such panache…  ASIMO is demonstrating Honda’s positioning for real, and that speaks volumes for their ambition to show rather than talk about the power of their dreams.  watch and learn.  watch and learn.

advertising, branding, content creating, IPA|ED:five, user-generating

The Trampling by Brands of User-Generated Creativity; why we have to do better than this

so if once is an incidence, twice is a co-incidence and three times is a theory, then I reckon we have a hypothesis on our hands.  I’ve now noticed three brands of late directly asking users to create adverts for them on the brands terms.

the first and loosest brief came from Ann Summers (above) and their viral academy.  they’re quite direct about it "we don’t retain a creative agency; instead we welcome ideas from talented creative people who contact us directly".  fair enough.  having had content independently submitted, they wanted to make sure it was more formalised.  but the brief remains loose…

"We expect most of the ideas to be for short films – like the ones you can find here  but we don’t want to limit you in any way. If you have a great idea for
a game, a song, a comic – anything at all – we’d love to hear it" [source]

much more recently I’ve come across a couple of examples that don’t show quite the same latitude in their briefs, or what they’re willing to accept.

first came ‘you make it, we play it’ from Doritos.  they’re getting a bit more specific about what they want…  it’s got to be – for example – exactly 29 secs in length.  a bit more specific then…

but any reservations that Doritos might be taking a slight advantage of consumers  was blown out of the water when I saw Armani’s brief at the weekend…

the rules – downloaded from the Armani contest website, stipulate that:

"each creation must comprise:

  • a packshot of the Emporio Armani For Him and For Her
    fragrances: either the packshot found on the Site (which under no circumstance
    may be modified) or a packshot of these fragrances created by the entrant;
  • the two logos found on the Site: Emporio Armani and Get
  • The English signature “Emporio Armani, The two fragrances:
    Get together”,to the exclusion of any other"

I’m not quite sure slave labour is what Larry Lessig had in mind when he talked about a truce in the corporate | consumer creative pact.  and I’m as sure as hell that ordering an army of consumers to use a packshot, logo and tagline as stipulated by Armani when user-generating, wasn’t approaching what Gibson or Jenkins had in mind when they described a future vision of participatory culture and collective intelligence.

brands either embrace the user-generation on their terms, with all the diversity that comes with it.  or once again miss the boat because they applied a brand-centric old model to a consumer-centric new world.  we surely have to do better than this.

branding, content creating, IPA|ED:three, user-generating

This Way Up: Packaging to Grow

Packaging is the touch point that reaches every one of a
client’s existing customers, who are – as Julian Saunders notes – a client’s
most important audience; “The economics of winning a new customer versus
keeping an existing on is generally well known.  A healthy and mature service business should
get most of its business from existing customers”

This post is about how by adopting three behaviours a brand
can best use packaging as a communications channel to drive growth through
existing customers. Furthermore, I’ll
suggest how these three behaviours can be systemised and applied to the
majority of packaged brands in the form of a model for brand growth – packaging
to grow. 

Behaviour I – Adding Value In A World Of Abundance

The principle change over the last decade has been a shift
from media scarcity to media abundance – was the view expressed by Rory
Sutherland at a conference last year [2], something which also applies to
packaging media [3].  At the same time,
behavioural research shows that shoppers are becoming more selective – they
know what items they need and only go down those aisles [4].

In a world of abundance in which consumers know what they
want, brands must fight for the only scarce resource that remains –attention. Adding value through packaging is a key strategy
to get and maintain attention, ensuring consumers keep your brand in their
‘evoked set’ [5].

That’s why each winter bottles of Innocent smoothies wear hand-made
bobble hats. It’s why Abercrombie and
Fitch bags could be mistaken for posters [6], and it’s how the addition of
packaging (as opposed to download only) increased the retail value of
Radiohead’s recent ‘In Rainbows’ album more than nine-fold [7]. Value goes both ways.

Adding value (top down): Innocent Bobble hats, Radiohead’s
‘In Rainbows’ boxed set and A&F posterbags

By adding value, packaging promotes brand growth through
re-conversion, reinforcing the decision to purchase, and increasing future
propensity to repurchase.

Behaviour II – Getting Personal In A Consumer-Made World [8] first identified ‘customer-made’ in
2005. By allowing consumers to
co-create, brands not only tap into the collective intellectual capital of the
crowd, but give their existing consumers personalised reasons to repurchase.

That’s why Jones’s Water has thousands of different customer-designed
labels, and why Pepsi commissioned 35 new designs for its cans [9]. It’s why Heinz let’s you buy a bottle of
ketchup with your name on it, and why the design on Saks Fifth Avenue’s bags is
recombined in an infinite – and therefore unique – number of ways [10].

Personalisation and customisation (top down): Customised
labels courtesy of My Heinz, Jones Soda Co’s labels as co-created with
customers, Pentagram’s Saks Fifth Avenue bag (the original logo is recombined
into unique combinations)

By promoting customisation and personalisation, packaging
promotes brand growth by enticing the consumer back for more of the different;
a unique experience; increasing frequency of purchase.

Behaviour III – Stimulating Conversations In A Networked

“In the old paradigm … mass persuasion involved exposing
millions of consumers to commercial messages … in the new paradigm, the boot is
on the other foot … Target audiences are … a community of interconnected people
within which brand perceptions are shaped by multiple influences”
notes Will
Collin [11]. There exists legislation in
these networks; its Gladwell’s Law of the Few – which describes how
‘Connectors’ behave like social glue, spreading a message [12].

An LSE’s study into brand advocacy proved that the more
advocates a brand has, the higher the brand growth; in general, brands grow
four times faster with positive as opposed to negative word-of-mouth profiles
[13]. So it’s in a brand’s interests to
give its potential advocates – its consumers – reasons to start conversations.

That’s why first BBC2 and now Channel 4 invest buckets in
idents (programme packaging) that gets talked about, and why Nokia created
bespoke packaging that fitted through a letterbox if you told them you didn’t
need a new charger.

TV Packaging (top down): BBC2’s ‘Saw’, Channel 4’s ‘City’ and
‘Corn Field’

By stimulating conversations amongst its existing clients,
packaging promotes brand growth by introducing new consumers to a brand,
increasing penetration.

Packaging to Grow: A Model


Making it Happen

Case Study One: Powerade

Mission: grow volumes

  • Powerade could add value by printing specific gym programmes
    with expert trainer advice on the side of bottles.
  • They personalise packaging by encouraging consumers to
    suggest new programmes which are rotated on a 10 week basis; encouraging
    variation in gym routine [14] and generating sales through increased frequency
    of purchase.
  • Word on mouth is encouraged by displaying monthly challenges
    on in-gym vending machines; ‘challenge a friend to do the workout with you’.

Case Study Two: UKTV Food

Grow share of audience

  • In a digital world every niche station is fighting for
    share, and UKTV Food is no exception. They add value to idents (their packaging) by suggesting interesting new
    ingredients under the banner of; ‘Different Every Day’.
  • Customisation is delivered thru red-button – click on an
    ident for more information on an ingredient and how it can be incorporated into
    individual cooking regimes.
  • Partnering with Sainsbury’s and aligning UKTV Food’s
    ‘Different Every Day’ to the retailer’s ‘Try Something New today’ would see
    Sainsbury’s signpost in-store to the ingredient of the week; stimulating
    conversations via the most credible of corporate advocates.

Case Study three: Dulux

Consolidate market share

  • Dulux could add-value by attaching unique colour charts to
    their tins of paint, indicating – for future use – what items will match the
    new colour on the walls of Andy and Charlie’s room.
  • Behaviour two allows Andy and Charlie to create their own
    unique colour of paint, but rather than packaging it in a standard tins, they
    customise their own design and take the paint home in a bespoke tin.
  • Dulux then builds a social network group that allows
    customers to patent and publish their colours. This encourages Andy and Charlie to contact their friends, advising them
    that they can now order Andy and Charlie’s own patented Dulux colour for their
    own homes [15].


What you waiting for?

One model: three behaviours;

Add value, personalise, and stimulate conversations.

Use packaging to grow.

Sources and References

[1] Quotation from A market leader exclusive report: What is
really changing in Marketing Communications? (Julian Saunders). This crucial importance of existing customers
was reinforced in an influential piece of research by the LSE who identified
that “businesses seeking year-on-year growth may be overlooking their most
powerful growth-generating asset – existing clients, customers and consumers”

(Source: Advocacy drives growth – Exclusive research from the London School of
Economics reveals the benefits and pitfalls of word-of-mouth communication (LSE

[2] Delivering the Landmark Creative Campaign – a speech to
the IPA Outdoor’s Seeing Digital Conference (Rory Sutherland).

[3] This shift is reflected in the supermarket packaging
media; John Hagel has commented that “over time, more and more products entered
the market and shelf space became the scarce good (quoting John Hagel)

[4] Source: The In-store Environment. Research observed that whilst 30% of shoppers
demonstrated ‘selective’ shopping in 2003, by 2006 that figure had risen to
34%. Notably, this behaviour is
reflected online, where there are no isles; search engines make virtually all
customer orientation selective

[5] Source: The In-store Environment. Quoting from the same source: “The evoked set
is the group of products from which the shopper will make their final decision
… if categories or products do not appear in the evoked set, it is harder for
the merchandising and point of sale activity to differentiate a category or
product because it must enable both the conversion from visitor to shopper, and
from shopper to buyer”.

[6] Or art prints – depending on your perspective!

[7] When Radiohead’s ‘in rainbows’ was released in October
2007 as download only – unpackaged – the value was determined by consumers;
they could choose their own purchase price – the average price chosen to pay
was £3.88 (source). At the start of December 2007 the same
content was released in the form of a three-format discbox. The asking price for a product valued at
£3.88 with packaging? …£40.00.

[8] source … Quoting the site; "Get ready for
CUSTOMER-MADE: the phenomenon of corporations creating goods, services and
experiences in close cooperation with consumers, tapping into their
intellectual capital, and in exchange giving them a direct say in what actually
gets produced, manufactured, developed, designed, serviced, or processed"

[9] Early in 2007 Pepsi commissioned US design
company Arnell Group to develop 35 designs new designs for its cans, including
12 inch vinyls, gleaming hubcabs, swirling tattoos and 31 other pieces of
artwork drawing from different strands of youth culture – source.

[10] Whilst the bag – designed by Pentagram Design
technically didn’t have an infinite number of designs, more than several
trillion combinations gets it pretty much there.

[11] Quoting: Will Collin writing about the paradigm shift
in the communications industry in a Campaign supplement

[12] Source: The terms ‘Law of the Few’ and ‘Connectors’
were coined by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point.

[13] Source: Advocacy drives growth – Exclusive research
from the London School of Economics reveals the benefits and pitfalls of
word-of-mouth communication (LSE 2005)

[14] One of the key aspects of training is to change your
workout regularly. Varying the routine
not only avoids boredom but works different muscle groups preventing ‘plateauing’
in body-response. Different programmes
could be created – for example the strength-training work-out cardiovascular

[15] Their friends won’t, nobody would be seen dead with
someone else’s colour on their own wall. They’ll want their own unique colour, and they’ll know where to get it!

advertising, branding, regulating

Sky-High Stakes in Hong Kong’s Out of Home Arms Race

Dsc04043Mediation is on tour in Australasia for a few weeks.  whilst on it’s first stop in Hong Kong it noticed this little poster for Calvin Klein’s Steel range.  towering above the island’s Central district, the building wrap dwarfs many of the surrounding buildings and can be seen not only from much of the island but also from Kowloon across the harbour.

it’s typical of the predominance of outdoor in the territory…  from the biggest billboards to the depths of the underground, posters in a multitude of shapes and forms are everywhere.  in Mediation’s native UK, shopfronts tell the story of what’s available inside – but in the visual arms race of Hong Kong you need to shout a lot louder, and higher.

this prevalence of outdoor tells us much about media consumption in the area…  for a massively dense and highly mobile population it’s no doubt a very effective medium.

but it also tells us much about the cultural differences between Hong Kong and the UK.  big building wraps like the above have occasionally been available in London – County Hall and Trafalgar Square’s Nelson’s column come to mind – but it’s difficult to imagine a 50ft crotch being put on display; the applications in London were as much about the suitability of a brand to the city’s culture and community as much as about how much a brand was prepared to pay for the space.  commercially is simply not as big a factor as sensitivity to conservative public tastes.

the above building wrap would cause a public outcry in London.  not so in Hong Kong…  where the bustling life of the city continues seemingly oblivious to the Calvin Klein model towering above them.  in the city’s outdoor arms race, the stakes have been raised.  I’m not entirely sure how much further they could go…

advertising, branding, engaging, internet, planning

There now follows a simple exercise in Building Brand Associations…

Mm_dark…courtesy of M&Ms.  this is quite old now but I just came across it today whilst browsing a post  by

so you’re M&Ms and you want people to know and remember that you have a new product in the form of Dark Chocolate.  you could invest in an ad that communicates this and deploy thru relevant and effective media, or

…you could get consumers to find out and then re-enforce (multiple times over) the association for themselves via an online game where you have to find 50 hidden movies – all of which have a ‘dark’ theme.

this is stand out for two reasons.  one, only the buffest of movie buffs will know all the answers, so you’re compelled to pass it on and try to work out the answers amongst your mates.  it’s very sociably-networkable.  which is good.

secondly this little piece stands out for the sheer elegant simplicity with which it has been put together.  using flash you navigate your way around the image, zooming in and out as you go.  and once you’ve spotted and noted a movie it blacks out, allowing you to focus on the remaining movies you haven’t got yet.  infuriatingly addictive and of course very easy to pass on to others to inflict the same brand association building on them.

click here to play but be warned; it’s addictive.

advertising, branding, IPA|ED:two, planning, researching

The Ecology of Engrams

en·gram [en-gram] – noun

encoding in neural tissue that provides a physical basis for the persistence of memory; a memory trace (1)

E·col·o·gy [i-koluh-jee] – noun

branch of biology dealing with relations and interactions between organisms and their environment, including other organisms (2)

I believe the concept of the individual brand engram for the purposes of marketing communications is redundant. I believe that a truer reflection of brands can be found by examining the dynamics of engram herds within a population.

1. The Myth of the Isolated Engram

The emergence of neuroscience has informed us that brands are not definitive established entities. Rather they are ideas. An ever-changing and dynamic concept of meanings and associations held – amongst millions of others (4) – within our minds. As Wendy Gordon puts it, “a brand in memory is a totality of stored synaptic connections between neurones … gradually built up through the combination of many past experiences and ongoing current encounters with a brand” (5). The term engram – coined originally by Richard Semon in 1904 – refers to this ‘memory trace’ (6) within which a brand is held.

Two key properties emerge from this concept:

First, the brand-as-engram is largely malleable and open to influence. Whilst marketers would hold that this gives them remit to leverage this set of associations thru advertising and other means, the reality is quite different;

The stimuli we receive don’t uniformly alter the engram. Daniel Schacter notes that; “our memory systems are built so that we are likely to remember what is most important to us” (7). Not all stimulus is created equal, as Willmott and Nelson observe; “ in a networked society, where people not only have more contacts but rely on them more for advice and support … personal recommendations, and recriminations, have more weight” (8). In other words brand engrams are – by their very nature – most open to influence by other people. Brand engrams are most open to influence by other engrams.

The second property to emerge from the brand-as-engram concept is that because engrams are formed from different experiences in different individual’s heads, no two engrams can be the identical. As Wendy Gordon puts it; “two people can never experience an identical set of encounters with a brand, and therefore their brand engrams will be different” (9).

So brand engrams are mostly open to influence by other engrams, each of which is unique; the concept of the isolated and definitive brand engram is therefore a myth.

Brands aren’t individual ideas, but herds of ideas, within a population. Herds that over time will grow or shrink, become more disparate or move more tightly together, or that become more or less consistent; all as a result of their environment that includes other engrams. It is this latter facet of the engram herd – consistency – upon which this submission will focus.

2. The Importance of the Consistent Herd

Key to successful marketing of a brand is to have a consistent engram herd, with consistent meanings and values associated with a brand. As Wendy Gordon points out, “new entrants to established product categories require an enormous financial investment to build these values, which ensure that a target group of consumers are able to share a similar pattern of specific belief system about a brand” (10).

There are several reasons why consistency of engram throughout a herd is crucial; as a shared language for word of mouth, as a consistent reference for self-identity, and within the concept of transactive memory:

2.1 The importance of consistent herd in Word of mouth epidemics

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes what he calls ‘the law of the few’ and describes how it was beneficial to the spreading of Hush Puppies from a few individuals in New York’s East Village to the mainstream American malls; “The law of the few says the answer is that one of these exceptional people [the few] found out about the trend and through social connections and energy and enthusiasm and personality spread the word about Hush Puppies” (11).

But what the malls of mainstream America depended upon, what made the spread of the idea commercial on a large scale, was the creation and existence of an engram herd which consistently adopted Hush Puppies as cool. Gladwell’s ‘exceptional people’ may spread a message, but once tipped, it requires consistency of an engram throughout the herd to hold, and maintain it.

And what any individual relies upon when receiving or transmitting messages within a word of mouth epidemic is a consistent frame of reference throughout that herd, a consistent language, a consistent engram on which to build.

The point is backed up by Caroline Whitehall who – in describing tactics to reduce marketing inertia – notes that “most of us are only likely to change behaviour if there is evidence of a larger movement emerging” (12). What this tactic relies upon is a consistent understanding throughout the herd of what that larger movement means; in order to create meaningful understanding of what adopting that group idea or behaviour entails.

2.2 The role of the consistent herd in communicating self-identity

Heath and Potter observe that “what we are all really after is not individuality, it is distinction, and distinction is achieved not by being different, but by being different in a way that makes us recognisable as members of an exclusive club” (13).

This construction of identity is achieved in various ways, the adoption and presentation of brands to others being one. We rely on the meanings and associations of the brands we choose to communicate something about ourselves, what Daniel Dennett calls ‘centres of narrative gravity’ (14).

The creation and communication of identity is wholly dependent on this centre of gravity, this consistency amongst the herd of what a brand means and the associations it therefore imparts to the individual who bears it. Only with consistency throughout the herd, other people carrying the engram are immediately aware of what – for example – wearing a t-shirt from Abercrombie & Fitch, or Armani, or Bathing Ape, imparts to the wearer.

Without consistency of meaning the message is at best diffused and at worst lost; the brand less effectively contributes to identity. Wendy Gordon notes that “A brand is metaphor for a complex pattern of associations” (15). Without consistency of engrams across the herd, that metaphor is meaningless.

2.3 The need for a consistent herd for a functioning transactive memory

A final example of the value of herd consistency is a concept developed by Daniel Wenger of the University of Virginia and described by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point; that of Transactive Memory. “When we talk about memory, we aren’t just talking about ideas and impressions and facts stored inside our heads. An awful lot of what we remember is actually stored inside outside our brains … we store information with other people” (16).

This ‘outside’ information is encoded within and amongst engrams, many of which will be held within those of brand engrams. For example when we talk about Live Aid with people who also hold that engram, we may be reminded of information about the concert and the events surrounding it that we may have forgotten. We recall that the event happened as well as those specifics most pertinent to us within our own individual engrams, but we expect and require the herd engram to hold the greater body of information and detail of that brand.

It is in many ways a concept analogous to that of the Wisdom of Crowds, and idea James Surowiecki expounds in his book of the same name: “under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them … chasing the expert is a mistake, and a costly one at that. We should stop hunting and ask the crowd” (17).

The same could be said of a marketer wishing to understand how a brand is perceived; stop hunting a ‘typical’ individual engram; no such thing exists. Start by understanding the nature and dynamics of the engram herd as a whole, in which the greater and truer reflection of the brand can be found.

3. Case Study – Articulating eBay’s engram herd

One brand that has seen a chasm develop within its engram herd is eBay, a brand that is seeing its growth slow (18). Existing heavy users hold very positive associations – both with the complexity of the site and the community around it. But a great many of the engram herd have lapsed from use of eBay, citing that it’s too complicated and riskier than conventional online purchasing (19).

These are two very different centres of narrative gravity. And they’re in direct conflict. I’d suggest that it is partly this conflict within the herd that is resulting firstly in the slowed growth that eBay is currently experiencing, and secondly in decreasingly effective marketing communications. Put simply, communications are failing to reflect, and therefore resonate with, the herd engram footprint.

Saying ‘buy this on eBay’ (20) isn’t indicative of the heavy user positive engram gravity well; to heavy users it feels patronising. Nor does it address the negative engram gravity well typical of lapsed users who feel that eBay is complicated and risky.

To test this theory, I conducted some proprietary quantitative research amongst 88 randomly selected consumers (from my Facebook friends!) and asked them to indicate whether or not a range of words applied to eBay as well as three other brands within the online commerce space – Amazon, and

Figure 1 shows the extent to which various associations were made with each of the four brands. So for example across the 88 respondents 70 connected the association ‘affordable’ with Amazon, 56 respondents with, 46 with eBay etc. By pooling the associations we get an indication of the herd engram footprint for these brands, indicating the extent to which these four brands overlap with each other.

Figure 1: herd engram associations by brand 21

But when each brand is examined individually, a much more distinct herd engram emerges. Figure 2 shows only the eBay data, ranked by association.

Figure 2: eBay herd engram associations ranked strongest
first 21

Big, community, choice and affordable emerge top (reflecting the positive gravity well), as do time-consuming and risky (the negative gravity well). In an individual engram this picture wouldn’t have emerged, the gravity well of that individual would have dominated. Only by looking at the herd engram are the range of (in eBay’s case less consistent) associations observed.

But the real indication of the relative strength of herd consistency comes when the brand herd engrams are compared. Figure 3 shows each of the four brand herd engram footprints as ranked by each brand independently of association (i.e. the first point on the x-axis is the strongest association for each of the four brands).

Figure 3 brand herd engram footprints as ranked by each
brand independently of association (21)

Amazon’s herd engram footprint has most connections concentrated across fewer associations. In short its herd is the most consistent. Amazon’s herd more easily and implicitly recognise what its individual members mean when they mention Amazon or when it is used as a display of self-identity.

The challenge for eBay is to use its marketing communications to help generate consistency across its herd engram. At present those carrying the engram are forming very different memory traces orientated around different experiences of the product, ensuring that broadcast communications resonate less well with the collective associations of eBay’s herd.

The challenge for all advertisers is to acknowledge the existence of the herd brand engram and accept its truer reflection of the brand as it exists across the memory traces of consumers. Articulate it. Measure its consistency. Identify the foci for the gravity wells that will influence the currents and eddies of the conversations and interactions – the ecology – of the herd engram.

Notes and References

  1. Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc.
  2. American Psychological Association (APA): via
    Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved October 01, 2007
  3. Wildebeest herd grazing on savannah, Masai Mara Game
    Reserve, Kenya, as seen on
    the ‘Great Plains’ episode of Planet Earth.
  4. Daniel L. Schacter. Searching
    for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past. Basic Books. p59
  5. Wendy Gordon. Brands
    on the brain: new scientific discoveries to support new brand thinking. Kogan
    Page. P112
  6. Daniel L. Schacter. Searching
    for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past. Basic Books. p57
  7. Daniel L. Schacter. Searching
    for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past. Basic Books. P46
  8. Micahel Willmott & William Nelson. Complicated lives;
    sophisticated consumers, intricate lifestyles, simple solutions. Wiley. p221
  9. Wendy Gordon. Brands
    on the brain: new scientific discoveries to support new brand thinking. Kogan
    Page. P115
  10. Wendy Gordon. Understanding Brands, by 10 people who do.
    Chapter 2: Accessing the brand through research. Ed Don Cowley. Kogan Page. p36
  11. Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point. Abacus. p21-22
  12. Caroline Whitehall. Inertia is Good. Admap December 2005,
    Issue 467. p3
  13. Joseph Heath & Andrew Potter. The Rebel Sell: How the
    Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture. Capstone Publishing. p219
  14. Daniel Dennett. ‘The Self as a Centre of Narrative Gravity’
    in Self and Consciousness, ed F. Kessel, P. Cole, D.Johnson. Hillsdale, NJ:
    Erlbaum, 1992
  15. Wendy Gordon. Brands
    on the brain: new scientific discoveries to support new brand thinking. Kogan
    Page. P112
  16. Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point. Abacus. p188
  17. James Surowiecki. The Wisdom of Crowds. Abacus. p xiv-xv
  18. As reported by eBay, specific proprietary data is
  19. The author. eBay proprietary qualitative research. June 2007
  20. This was – amongst other specific messages eg Trust &
    Safety – the general message communicated by eBay from circa. 2005 until
  21. Independent proprietary quantitative research conducted by
    the author for the purposes of this paper. Sample on 88 respondents (recruited via Facebook – not nationally
    representative). September 2007
advertising, branding, viewing

Making Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Ad

I caught this treat of a TV ad last night, and it is – for me – by far and away the best of this year’s Chrimbo crop.  a simple and elegant piece that taps into our collective sense of Christmas spirit.  more celebrities than you know what to do with are on display, but none one of them is trying to sell us groceries or boost their own profile.  rather, they’re all  doing exactly what they do best – laughing, hugging, loving, crying and – in the case of the Grinch – scowling their way through the festive season.

if I had one critisim, it’s that this ad doesn’t need an end line, or a tag line for that matter.  the suggestion that the montage featured movies ‘for the people you love’ is not only implicit, but negates against people drawing their own – and therefore more powerful – conclusions as the what the ad is conveying.  and as for ‘get closer’, well that doesn’t mean anything at all!

but it’s absolutely the right move for HMV, who are never going to compete with the
online retailers on price.  instead they’re reinforcing their
associations with movies, the objective presumably being that over the
next few weeks, as we all negotiate our ways down our respective frenetic
highstreets, we see that Jack Russell and make a detour into it’s store over
others.  time will tell if with this effort HMV manage a Merry little Christmas themselves… I supsect it may just work!