advertising, celebrating, community-building, innovating, marketing, responding

The five-point Covid-19 Response Playbook; according to the awesome Aesop’s Bangkok

Back in the olden days when we used to get on aeroplanes and visit other countries, one of my favourite places to drop by was the awesome Aesop’s Greek restaurant in Bangkok’s Sathorn district.

The food is just the best, but so is the atmosphere, with owner (and PHD alumnus) John Gamvros, creating a shared social space with dancing, plate smashing, parties, quiz nights, and the occasional Queen singalong party (you can see why I didn’t mind stopping by occasionally).

Like many restaurants, Aesop’s Bangkok has been hugely impacted by this year’s pandemic and the shut-downs that have been introduced around the world to slow its spread.

The fall-out from the closures could be devastating to the industry: Forbes reports that – according to a study commissioned by the Independent Restaurant Coalition – the pandemic could force 85% of independent U.S. restaurants to close by the end of the year. Over on this side of the world in Japan, which is weathering the crisis better than many, that figure is reported to be around 20%.

It was most heartening then when I received, via the awesome Heather, a write up on Chope outlining how Aesop’s Bangkok responded to the challenge of Covid-19 – or, as John puts it – the ‘ronacoaster’.

The article outlines the innovative, creative and generous steps John and the team at the restaurant took to adapt and respond to the crisis. A little WhatsApp banter with John later, and I’d seen and heard what I thought was as great a Covid-19 Response Playbook as any that I’d seen.

I present to you then, the five-point Covid-19 Response Playbook – as inspired by the awesome approaches and actions of John and the Aesop’s Bangkok team.

Step One: Pivot and Operationalise, Fast

Like many restaurants, Aesop’s immediately kicked into gear re-launching their delivery product, creating a dedicated consumer-facing channel at, as well as accelerating their digital marketing effort to support the platform. They also had to work with their staff to re-engineer the menu, change operations and back that up with training.

In the current moment you have to follow more then ever Nick Fury’s observation to The Cap in CA:TWS that you have to “… take the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be.” What do you realistically need to do right now to capitalise on the opportunities and overcome the barriers to driving revenues?

Now delivering Gyros

Step Two: Play To Your Strengths

Rather than reinventing the wheel, the restaurant found a way to deliver the added magical elements that made the Aesop’s dining experience so special. This included, for example, plate smashing. So the team found a way to deliver orders complete with smashable plates, so you can bring the Aesop’s dining experience to life in your own home (you presumably have to do you own in-home clearing up tho too).

Step Three: Do, Don’t Say

Actions really do speak much louder than words right now. The team built trust with the restaurant’s followers by communicating updates directly and regularly on our social media channels, and responding to specific queries and concerns.

The bigger the brand, the harder this is to do of course, but I couldn’t help but think of the contrast between the personal approach and the – much lambasted – generic response from big brands in the early stages of the crisis.

Film from YouTube creator Microsoft Sam’s supercut shows the striking similarities in the ads made in response to the crisis

Step Four: Pay It Forward

Some of the most heartening stories to have emerged from the crisis have been around brands and businesses retooling and responding by paying efforts forward, and Aesop’s were no exception. They partnered with Ramathibodi Hospital to launch Eat it Forward Fridays, providing much needed fuel to the hard working doctors and nurses on duty. For every order received, Aesop’s donates one meal to Ramathibodi hospital to feed the hospital heroes with fresh, healthy Greek food.

Step Five: Be Honest

As John describes: “… it actually takes a lot more work than you’d expect to maintain the same high standards we set in the restaurant. We have overcome it through teamwork, listening to customer feedback, and constantly tweaking things. I have been honest with my customers, I tell them we are on a journey and that we are learning as we go. More often than not they appreciate that honesty and reward it.”

I think most people would agree that we’ve all at times felt out of our depth over the last six months. Being honest with customers (and with each other) about what we are trying to achieve, along with an equally honest assessment of how we are doing in getting there, will be appreciated and rewarded in kind.

Big thanks to Heather for the share, and John and all the team at Aesop’s Bangkok for the inspiration. We’ll stop on by just as soon as we can.

Stay safe everyone.

adserving, applicationing, innovating, listening, phdcast, planning, programmatic buying

PHDcast 31.05.13: Programmatic Buying, How Superman Shaves and Tumblr

PHDcast for Mediation 470lots of fun on the PHDcast last week as Stew and Nic and I were joined by some awesome people from PHD Australia’s team digital. Peter Hunter and Lauren Oldham joined us to talk everything from programmatic buying to Gillette’s YouTubey Man Of Steel activation.

first up, programmatic buying. B&T quotes eMarketer who suggest that: “more than a quarter of all display-ad spending in the U.S. will occur via real-time auctions by 2016. Spending is predicted to increase from US$1.9bn in 2012 to more than US$7bn to make up 28% of total display-ad buying by the end of that year.”

great debate from the team, the main upshot of which was that programmatic buying will soon be how we predominantly buy ‘traditional’ online, with content moving even further up the online food chain, becoming of fundamental importance as online real-estate for brands.

a key implication is that it allows the conversations we have with our media owner partners to move on and focus on what, arguably, is the core point of those relationships – ideas, collaboration and creative use of media.

the other main implication is for those big traditional (broadcast) media owners who, as they mediate the future of their own media platforms, will see PB encroach on how they trade with agencies. whilst some broadcasters are already experimenting with DSP technology, its something that is unlikely to happen overnight. inertia aside, I genuinely believe that as revenues fragment across different channels, making PB work will become a strategic imperative, rather than an interesting inconvenience to broadcasters.

also this week, Gillette are exploring how exactly Superman shaves? a great activation on the brands’ YouTube channel has geeky celebrities proposing how they think the Man Of Steel shaves. awesome activation – will be even more so if the team involved find a way to amplify the content into broadcast.

gillette how does he shave

also this week an awesome app from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that allows you to use their data to explore the opinions and attitudes of people in your (or any) suburb and town across the nation.

oh, and that US$1.1bn purchase by Yahoo! of Tumblr. The Hunter observes that, when looked at from a data perspective, Yahoo! have essentially paid $4 each for the records of 300,000,000 active users – which makes it quite the bargain. whether it’s enough for the somewhat ailing Yahoo! remains to be seen.

awarding, celebrating, cinema, community-building, imagining, innovating

A Counterpoint for Cannes: Lessons from the Sundance Film Festival


so I was listening, as is my want, to Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode’s Movie Review Podcast (which is very good btw) as they were live from The Sundance Film Festival which was visiting London. they were interviewing John Cooper, Director of the SFF who described how the festival first came about:

“Sundance … was created to find a safe haven for artists to become better and to make better cinema … then we started this thing … we called labs, which were basically workshops where filmmakers come and work on their scripts with mentors and there’s a whole mentoring process … very quickly after that [we] were making movies but they weren’t getting seen anywhere so we needed to create a platform and that was the Sundance Film Festival and that’s how it started” (source)

the festival has seen the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson, Alexander Payne and Tarantino all hone and develop their skills in an environment where risk-taking is encouraged and protected; a very different environment to Cannes or the Oscars … where the focus is on subjective judgement by peers and winning awards.

I couldn’t help but think and wish that there was a Sundance equivelant for our industry. the Cannes Festival of Creativity (which will soon see the great and good head off to the south of France for the annual networkathon) is basically our Oscars, and it has its place.

but there doesn’t seem to be a counterpoint? we don’t have a Sundance.

certainly in Australia the Media Federation Awards, like the B&T awards and Adnews awards, all follow the Cannes / Oscars template … glitz and glamour as the campaigns and ideas judged to be the best allow the people who submitted them to have a fully deserved 15 seconds in the glare of the lights.

how awesome would it be if the above quote read:

“Incubator … was created to find a safe haven for planners to become better and to generate better innovations … then we started this thing … we called labs, which were basically workshops where planners come and work on their ideas with mentors and there’s a whole mentoring process … very quickly after that [we] were creating innovation but they weren’t getting seen anywhere so we needed to create a platform and that was the Incubator Ideas festival and that’s how it started”

how awesome? very.

advertising, innovating, planning, social media-ising, user-generating

When Dove met Facebook: and the illusion of a schedule that controls what people consume

Dove’s ‘The Ad Makeover’ campaign allows women to replace ads promoing low self esteem with something a little more positive

John Hammond: You’re right, you’re absolutely right. Hiring Nedry was a mistake, that’s obvious. We’re over-dependent on automation, I can see that now. Now, the next time everything’s correctable. Creation is an act of sheer will. Next time it’ll be flawless.

Ellie Sattler: It’s still the flea circus. It’s all an illusion.

John Hammond: When we have control again –

Ellie Sattler: You never had control! That’s the illusion!

From Jurassic park (1993)

a rather interesting debate is being had over a rather innovative campaign from Dove in Australia. playing out across the fine pages of B&T is a discussion about the relative merits of a campaign that allows women to replace ads that encourage low self-esteem (shut up, we’ve all seen them) with one of eight encouraging messages, which you can share across and beyond your personal networks.

the bit that’s causing the debate is that you can select facebook keywords that you feel describe other women who you think should see the ad that you have selected. You and Dove making-over Facebook one demoralising ad at a time, but in doing so you replace – presumably – ads that would have otherwise been there.

so, obvs, this is really smart thinking.  on message for the campaign and for the brand – with innovative and relevant use of the Facebook advertising platform that empowers people to engage with a brand thru media on their terms. fans all round then? no so much …

Nick Keenan, department head of implementation planning and investment at MediaCom has commented that “It’s very innovative but I think it serves Facebook and not the advertiser … at the end of the day I’m not sure what kind of surety it gives to other advertisers that are doing things with Facebook.”

this most awesome use of the word ‘surety’ kicks off a real battle between Keenan and chief executive of media agency Fusion Strategy, Steve Allen

Allen: “that’s “phooey … this is the new today … the new era for advertising and the internet is the first line of that.”

Keenan counters that “that’s completely naïve … how do you plan a schedule for that?”

back to Allen: “it’s like serving up Porsche ads to people in wheelchairs, it does more damage than good”

even‘s Freedman chips in: “The idea of empowering women to create their own advertising landscape is a disruptive one and that always translates to the kind of cut-through required when talking to women in a very crowded market.”

as entertaining as all of this is (and it is), it reminds me of one of the key reasons that I started and continue to write this blog. we live and work between two worlds; our media past and our media future. the debate being played out is between stalwarts of those two worlds, as the language used suggests.

Keenan is arguing that people’s actions will disrupt bought media impacts. like leaving the room in an ad break to make a cup of tea, or turning attention down to the tablet when the ads come on?

Allen argues that people know what brands they know and only want communications from those brands (“you are better off allowing consumers to select what they want, rather than to try and force them into things. Your impact is going to be much more valuable if they are people that want to know about your kind of product or brand. They are going to be receptive to it”) … which one could argue, and I would, leads to a rather myopic experience of brands and media.

for my twopenneth, its a debate about control, and the illusion that we ever had it.

media schedules are amazing things. I really mean that. to an experienced practitioner a brilliant schedule can sing. it can tell stories and decribe audiences and ideas and phases and roles of media. it can articulate behaviours and pinpoint the most intricate nuances of what a planner is seeking to achieve.

but a schedule can never control what people consume. that, to paraphrase Ellie Sattler, is the illusion. a schedule may be the sheet music but it needs people to play it. this is the illusion that we have, or indeed ever had, control.

that illusion is the great trap of applying 20th Century media planning in a 21st Century media landscape. Facebook isn’t like TV, and within a few years TV won’t be like TV either. the rules may not have changed as radically as Allen suggests, but they have changed.

we’re all of us fighting a war for attention, kudos to Dove for developing such a smart weapon for getting it.

all quotes from ‘Ad industry in flap over new Dove app article’ on B&T

disclamer: I don’t work for Unilever or Dove but I did pitch for their business last year and enjoyed the process very much


creating, innovating, internet

Australia’s digital-fuelled cultural boom: Why established brands and businesses need to close the innovation gap

the above video sets the context for a report released last week by Google and the Boston Consultancy Group, which has some rather interesting findings.  the report’s key findings are that Australia’s media industry is healthy, however it is the Internet that is providing the “shot in the arm” to growth.

it turns out that not only do Australians like their ‘new’ media world, but in said world where our access to, and choice of, media has never been greater, we’re consuming more media than ever before.  so much so in fact that – because we export, essentially, more content than we import – we have a trade surplus in our content that’s worth $24bn to the economy.

the report also identified that whilst ad revenues are still (and will be for a while) predominantly generated offline (93% in 2011), its online revenues that are driving more than 50% growth in the sector.

the report came in the same week that the sparkily titled Commercial Economic Advisory Service of Australia (CEASA to their friends) released it’s retrospective of 2011, reporting that whilst adspend was down, it “wasn’t as bad as previous years” (let it not be said that CEASA can’t find a silver lining in a set of figures).

a 1.4% overall drop was the result of (in descending order) online up 17.5%, outdoor up 3.4%, radio up 0.7% (congrats to them all), 2.6% drop in total TV, 9.2% drop in newspapers, 8.4% decline in mags, and a 20.8% drop in cinema. so both reports point to online as doing not just well, but supporting both ad revenues and the overall economy.

so far so ‘tell me something I didn’t know’ … but the reports struck a chord with a conversation I’ve been having a lot with clients and agency-type people recently.  because the reports only tell a truer picture when you ask WHY it is that online is bucking such a downward trend – and I think that the answer is about innovation.

the engine behind online’s performance is now only marginally about penetration gains and faster infrastructure, and a lot more about the increased utility and capabilities delivered via the internet. its not the internet that’s bucking ad spend trends and fuelling the Australian economy, its what the internet is doing, and more specifically what we can do with the internet that counts.

Facebook and YouTube have now been joined by the likes of Flipboard and Spotify on the Australian media scene, innovations that have come not from the mainstream but from the fringe. and here’s where I see the gap. because its not mainstream media or businesses that are driving this innovation, but new entrants. new entrants spotting an opportunity and innovating into it.

when you think about it, many ‘online’ platforms should have been invented by existing players, yet most weren’t:

the music industry should have invented iTunes

the movie business should have invented NetFlix

the radio industry should have invented Spotify

a magazine publisher should have invented Flipboard

a bank should have invented KickStarter

a dating service should have invented Grindr

and for that matter, a media agency should have invented Facebook

the reason none of those organisations invented the new platform is the same reason the American Railroads went into decline:

“The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because that need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, and even telephones) but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The reason they defined their industry incorrectly was that they were railroad oriented instead of transportation oriented; they were product oriented instead of customer oriented…”

source: Marketing Myopia, Theodore Levitt, HBR 1960

Levitt’s question from 1960 is even more pertinent now than it was then. what business are you in? once you’ve answered that you can start innovating around that business, and once you’re inventing stuff that gets shared and talked about, you can stop paying the expensive price of not innovating: buying media.

established players, it strikes me, are the least likely to bridge the innovation gap in their category – we should all we working on plans to change that.

and for those of us in agency land the question is more pertinent than for most … what business are we in? anyone who answers ‘buying media’ or ‘making ads’ should turn the lights off on their way out.

charging, innovating, making, marketing, praising, promoting, selling

Owning the Impossible: Winners all round as Nike brings The MAG Back From The Future

Nike_Mag_shoetwenty two years in the waiting, The MAG is Back From The Future

it took about thirty seconds.  thirty seconds from receiving this IM from Alex S… to fall utterly in love.

“i could see you in those”

the link was to this:

“Back To The Future Nike Air Mags Are Real And Glorious” was Gizmodo’s Geek Out’s take on today’s news.  I couldn’t agree more

the world was awake, and had been alerted to the existence of The MAG, brought Back From The Future by Nike.  as a post on Nike’s site explains:

“The NIKE MAG is no longer the “greatest shoe never made.” The mythical shoe that originally captured the imagination of audiences in Back to the Future II is being released – and they’re here to help create a future without Parkinson’s disease … 1,500 pairs of the 2011 NIKE MAG will be auctioned on eBay with all net proceeds going directly to The Michael J. Fox Foundation. Each day for the duration of the ten-day auction, one hundred and fifty pairs of the 2011 NIKE MAG shoes will be made available …”

as sneaks go it’s a stunning piece of work and – with the exception of power laces – is as fine a replica of Marty’s originals that you’ll find:

then and now – Marty’s original 2015 sneaks and the ones revealed today

it arrived with this beautiful teaser clip:

a clip which isn’t alone … a gamut of content and AV collateral has been released to support the arrival of the 1,500 pairs, and not a corner has been cut – Doc Brown himself is on board:

the distribution model is designed to extract maximum value from the shoes.  by selling on Ebay, Nike ensure that – with such a strictly limited supply (there’s one pair for every 4.5 million people on the planet) – it doesn’t just find those individuals with the money to invest in these puppies, but engages those individuals in what is sure to be a fierce bidding war, with each other, to own their slice of the impossible.

everyone wins.

those of us who have been waiting since 1989 for “the greatest shoe never made” to arrive finally get to see it.  a lucky few will even get to own it.  the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research will get a shedload of money to fight Parkinson’s (even if the average selling price is a conservative $5,000, the MAGs will generate over $7.5m in revenue).

Ebay get a burst of activity on their platform, part of which will no doubt fulfill the hugely valuable role of getting inactive registered users to engage with the site.  and as for Nike … money can’t buy publicity, the adoration of sneaker fans everywhere, and a global bidding war to get a hold of their product…

winners all round – The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Ebay and Nike

as marketing efforts go, its textbook best practice:

  • innovate and invest in creating products that have currency and will be in high demand
  • strictly limit supply
  • fewer bigger better partnerships to deliver and deploy the initiative
  • invest in credibility (Christopher Lloyd is in the ad for goodness sake)
  • sacrifice profits in favour of positive PR and goodwill
  • don’t buy media when you can earn it
  • invest in sharable high quality content
  • rigorously control timing to maximise interest and dominate news and conversation
  • product out, not advertising in

the awesomeness of these shoes is outdone only by the awesomeness of the marketing machine that has announced them to the world.  what happens over the next ten days remains to be seen, but for now its all eyes on Ebay – where, only 4 1/2 hours into day one’s auction, bids for every pair of size 9s are sitting at between $3,500 and $4,000.



good luck.


conferencing, innovating, insighting, learning

Because basics are brilliant: Dispatches from Straterday part one – the mind map


so I had the pleasure of spending a torrentially rainy morning last Saturday in the pleasure of Mark Pollard and a bunch of people interested in strategy.  no, really.  we learned through Priscilla (thanks Priscilla) that Pollard, of this Parish but soon to move to New York, was planning 'an analogue workout for the mind' called Straterday for anyone who was interested.  and so it was that Priscilla, Lauren, Mimi and I joined a host of other plannery media marketing creative types for a morning of stimulation and exercise, all curated by Pollard and friends.

before I type another word I wanted to extend my gratitude to Mark who organised, planned, curated and delivered the session.  you can find Mark via his blog or profile or linked in or twitter or facebook – he is as generous with his energy, ideas, time and content as he is with his online footprint.

I couldn't wouldn't and shouldn't write here a digest of the session.  instead I wanted to capture some of the clarity and inspiration it gave me.  this post is titled 'basics are brilliant' not because Straterday was basic … far from it.  rather it's because as our industry fragments and diversifies and converges and competes and commoditises the ever-diminishing precious asset that is attention, it's all too easy to forget the basics.

the brilliant basics.  the skills and considerations upon which our thinking and work is based.  the foundation of our craft.  that fact that so many of us don't see it as a craft is a debate for another day.  the truth is basics are brilliant.  but there's a danger that we forget to exercise them.  there's a danger that we get lazy.  that we forget just how energising curiosity, observation and innovation are.  Straterday existed to remind us of this.  and it succeeded.

for example …

who mind-maps once a week?

…was one question Mark put to us.  I don't.  but perhaps I should.  we were challenged to see, identify and understand – through mind mapping – the nuances in the stuff we're presented with every day.  I hope Mark doesn't mind me sharing this exercise here, as much as a hope that I find time to do this exercise (perhaps even on these pages) every week.


write down 20 things in a picture similar to the one above.  them mind map them…  then take any ten of the words you've mapped and list them.  then next to each those words write words that you associate with them.  make leaps.  don't be obvious … this is not Wack-a-Day.

this, as Mark pointed out, is alpha zoning, and you can train this.  by doing the above you keep your associative muscles fighting fit.  you keep you eyes trained to spot the detail that will prove pivotal.  you're ready for the insights that you may otherwise miss.  and you can get going on the 99% of perspiration that you'll need for every 1% of inspiration you allow yourself to generate.

basics.  they're brilliant.

conferencing, content creating, debating, innovating, internet, planning, thinking, understanding

Running away to the Circus: Dispatches from The Festival of Commercial Creativity – Josh Spear on the Fringe


Circus_josh-spear Josh Spear is "from the internet".  no really, he is.  he put everything owned in the Internet and now has much of his possessions stored in the cloud.

his website, emerged in 2004 from the back of a Journalism 1001 class in which he was disappointed with the way academics ignored blogs as an emerging media. Josh describes his home as "a daily source of inspiration for marketers, brand managers, advertising executives, and a wide range of everyday people from around the world who love to stay ahead of the curve"…

which I guess more than qualifies Josh to be talking to us at Circus.  his theme was 'the Fringes of the Internet', and the way the internet is affecting people and businesses.

he described how shortly after starting his blog he was approached by businesses who wanted to put ads on his site, this turned out to be a fine way to made money, and led to a conversation with advertisers about how effective the ads on his site were.  very effective it turns out … they were seeing click-through rates of 2%…

two percent? asked Josh.  yes, they replied.  that's a 98% failure rate, said Josh.  yes they replied, impressive isn't it!

Josh guessed then that the internet would have a major impact on businesses, and co-founded Undercurrent, a digital strategy firm that applies "a digital worldview to the challenges and ambitions of complex organizations"

"It's about the human behaviour we're going to talk about not the specific websites"

4chan is bad place on Internet but it's also important.  it's anonymous.  people respond to photos with photos.  [it's a bit like the Abyssal plain of the internet; a deep, unexplored region rich in biodiversity that influences the rest of the ocean in ways that we're only just understanding] … it's where 'I can haz cheezburger?' began … the LOL-CAT meme.  a meme which now results in tens of thousands of cats created every day.  like this one:


the misuse of worlds isn't an accident, it's very deliberate.  and globally consistent and understood.  it's a language called LOL-Kitteh.  the Bible has been translated into LOL-Kitteh.

Rick Rolling began on 4chan.  in fact "anything funny that's unexplainable starts on 4chan".  to the extent that a Time Magazine poll ranked Moot (4chan's creator) as the web's most influential person.  only later was it noticed that the first letters of the ranked online poll spelt out a phrase.  an incredibly sophisticated and advanced work of electoral engineering / hacking.

Moot_time_magTime Magazine's 2009 online poll results.  the first letters of the top 21 names spell out "marblecake also the game".  marblecake is the name of the IRC channel where Anonymous started their campaign against Scientology, and "the game" is a reference to "The Game" meme source: Wikipedia

the rabbit-hole, it would seem, goes very deep indeed.  "4chan is 'the bottom billion' pageviews on the Internet".  Spear points out that two things consistently happen to Moot (who is called Charles) (1) he is forced to dump 4chan's data every 12 hours due to hard drive space and (2) every week he is served a subpoena for the information he holds (before it's dumped).

[this is all pretty mind-boggling I'd have thought for the average brand marketing manager, and you can see how they would be queuing up for the elvish Spear to safely have them gaze down the rabbit hole without falling down.]  things used to be simple.  then there was digital.  which disrupted.  everything.  this is such a familiar phrase that it's beyond cliche, but Spear asks a very interesting question:

"is there a unit of disruption?' … and how do you stay on top of the disruption?  which happens all around you all of the time and increasingly finds ways to impact on your sensory sphere.  much as this blog discussed in a January 2010 post, Spear describes Tweetdeck as one way to control the disruption.  he has "become an air traffic controller of my disruption"

we are our social graph.  we're made up of our disruptions [connections], a point made wonderfully and elegantly with this map of the world, a map formed by nothing but the connections on Facebook.


What happens to a generation of people growing up in the world as drawn by this map and 4chan?  a world populated by cat memes and Rick Rolling?  a world in which gifts are given virtually.  Spear pointed out that thousands of dollars are spent on things that don't exist.  virtual economies are springing up everywhere.  Farmville makes $50m a month.  when Bear Stearns collapsed, a friend of his at Facebook didn't contemplate the collapse of the further banks but rather was promted to think that Facebook should start a bank. 

Virtual economies are being used by brands – for example the number of tweets Uniqlo products received affected their price – a fascinating dance between buzz and value.




Radiohead invited people to pay what they thought their album was worth, an invitation that made more money than all other record sales combined.  People's idea of money is changing.

the same goes for people's idea of location…  take Foursquare, which introduced game mechanics in the form of mayors and badges.  Foursquare also allowed tips to by left inside the check-ins, inside the game.  tips linked to location so that they're readily available to those who enter the space.  Foursquare allows reviewing in realtime on a geographical basis…  Spears asked why people share all this information, and showed a slide outlining three reasons why we share adapted from MIT research and Henry Jenkins:

  • Strengthen my bond – you are what you share in your social graph
  • Define collective identity – you are based on the five people you spend most time with
  • Give me status

Viral = a bad thing, something you catch

Spears notes that 'pass-along' is made not of viral, it's made of people sharing something with more than one of their friends, and so on.  reaching people is about tapping into cultural resonance.  to test this, Spear's office put an image of a funny(ish) joke about Tiger Woods on the web.  the pic got 30,000 views in first 48 hours, created a 'microblip' of cultural resonance … a map of interest, which could then be observed.  so how, in Spear's opinion do you create cultural resonance?

group of people + unique culture = amplify to affect society

it's about tapping into a shared interest online because you can't rely on time and space, as shared interests are a way of creating cultural resonance. connect your brand to this.  or don't.  these interests are being shared whether brands get involved or not.

but be careful brands – angels fear to tread where P Diddy TV trod with Burger King.  the video has long been removed, but fortunately for us Lisa Nova's spoof lives to remind us how it want down (nb Nova is now working in TV comedy – she got noticed because she understood the rules of the internet)

in Spear's opinion the fringe of the internet has a novelty scale:

Spears_novelty_scalethe fringe's novelty scale, as presented by Spears

Spears says that agencies who want to use things like crowd sourcing or 'the fringe' to do their work need to either be the lowest cost option, or the best.  if you're neither, you're stuck in the middle, and the middle is not a great place to be.

Spears asks what is the Internet good for?  advertisers and agencies may answer that it's good for awareness [incremental] and persuasion.  but Spear observes that this is not what the Internet is meant for.  the internet is meant for sharing, cooperating and collective action.  the latter of which is, in Spear's words, "the holy Grail of humans using technology"… at the fringe are the beginnings of these kinds of great examples…


the Copenhagen wheel collects data from your bike.  one person doesn't generate enough data to paint a picture of a city, but eveyone's data does … and allows the aggregation and interrogation of usable data to generate insight and utility.

Ushahidi encouraged free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, and in the aftermath of Haiti and Christchurch interactive maps directed resources in realtime to where help was most needed.  the US state dept now relies on this kind of information to coordinate relief efforts.  crowd sourcing is used to collect and sort data.  organisations no longer ask for money but for a little bit of time and effort.  Alive in Egypt transcribes voice messages into tweets, allowing people to deploy messages and information even when access to the internet is being blocked.


So what has 4chan guy got to do with the fringe?!  well what if all the people sending cats around every day gathered intelligence instead?  they already have, it's called WikiLeaks, and "we can't yet imagine how this will affect the world"

Some challenges for brands:

  • how do you change from interrupting people into adding utility for people?
  • How can brand engage with born digital consumers in their language?
  • If you take a brand into the universe of the internet, ask yourself if you are following the rules of that universe?
  • Are you surrounding yourself with enough people that speak digital?

the contents of this post [unless in square parenthesis] is the content of a talk given by @JoshSpear at Sydney's Circus in February of 2011, thanks to Josh for his input in writing this post

advertising, conferencing, creating, innovating, planning

Running away to the Circus: Dispatches from The Festival of Commercial Creativity – Chow on Chrome and Vervroegen on Creative Constraints


the second session of the first day of this week's Festival of Commercial Creativity, Circus, saw Marvin Chow, the Marketing Director for Google across Asia Pacific and Erik Vervroegen of Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco take us through two very different kinds of creative process…

Circus_marvin_chow first up, Marvin Chow, who talked about the marketing of Chrome, and about what happens when creativity meets technology…

declaration of interest – Google are a client of PHD Australia, where I spend a lot of my time

Chow  started by making a few points about Google:

  1. one, Google is an engineering company. engineering is part of the culture. Google people like to solve big problems, he cited that driver-less car came from an engineer asking how Google can stop people dying on the roads
  2. Ideas can come from anywhere, for example the search-able maps that helped coordinate the Queensland floods response was conceived and developed by a Sydney engineer who wanted to help
  3. the role of marketing at Google is to bring technology to people.  often this is about filling the existing Google pipeline with content, for example the Life In A Day project, an idea that came from Tim Partridge in London.  The Life in a day video … which was created from a bank of 80,000 clips has now been seen by 13m people on YouTube and will have a cinema release later in the year
  4. finally it's about bringing a culture of engineering to marketing.  engineers are interested in the responses of real people to the real world.  there's no substitute to what real people do in real situations.  Google test 6,000 marketing ideas a year.  they fail regularly, they fail fast, they fail well – test and iterate people, test an iterate…

given that context, what follows is "the story of how one product can change the world" … the story of Chrome.

we know, I suspect, one side of the Chrome story, but the other side is just how challenging it's been for Google to gain market share and gain penetration in a market with a significant, dominant and entrenched player.

the first question was why bother?  why invent another browser?  when Google asked people about browsers, they found that people found browsers indistinguishable from search…

the suggestion is that people see browsing = searching…  Chow made the point that "browsers are a lot like Tyres – we know they are important but we don't care or think about them every day"

the last time a browser launched [excluding Firefox presumably] was in 1995.  Google's ambition was to bring speed, stability and security to browsing.  but how to evolve the browser proposition? … it's been a long time since 1995 and people do lots more than browsing with their browsers, it's no longer a passive experience; browsers are TVs now (35 hours a video a minute currently being uploaded), they are phones and communication devices (100bn emails and texts are sent daily).  this was the new context for the browser and for Google – and how Chrome should drive the web experience forward.

the marketing of Chrome actually began with a comic book, which was distributed in december 2008 to innovators influencers in the web space.

Circus_google_comicChrome's comic book, distributed in 2008, was drawn by Scott McCloud and can be viewed, courtesy of Creative Commons, in full here

post the comic book Google looked to deliver more scale, and so developed ideas around platform of 'why switch?' … exploring Chrome's value proposition and product benefits.  they experimented and tested different benefits, for example this effort around 'simple'…

made by a small team in japan, this was broadcast in the US and became Google's first broadcast ad.  but here's the trick, Google didn't just test 'simple' – they tested a whole range of value propositions and product benefits.  and tested them not in focus groups but in the real world.  how did they measure success?  which ones led to the most Chrome downloads … real people in the real world remember…

'fast' (rather than 'simple') worked best, and so fast became worldwide creative brief, which eventually led to this…

"The idea of showing Chrome and speed in a different way excited us" noted Chow … the next iteration of comms was Chrome Fast Ball, which invited browsers to browse the web as fast as you think in a race across the Internet…

the coolest thing – and very Googley – is that these ideas are being crowdsourced from everywhere … ideas like this one which has since adopted another classic Google behaviour – users being able to generate their own versions of the ad.

two and a half years on from launch and 100m people around the world use chrome.  Google seem to be happy, although as the below chart from Wikipedia shows, there's quite a long way to go for Chrome yet.

Share of browsers.svg

one of the most innovative areas of crowd-sourced comms for Chrome is … I'm not going to lie, I don't actually know what these are – the website says that "Chrome Experiments is a showcase for creative web experiments, the vast majority of which are built with the latest open technologies, including HTML5, Canvas, SVG, and WebGL. All of them were made and submitted by talented artists and programmers from around the world" … I'm not sure that I'm any the wiser :o(

one example of which is Arcade Fire's The Wilderness Downtown – saw this a good while back but didn't connect at the time that this was a Google idea.

Chow's two key messages … that ideas can come from anywhere, and that it's crucial to experiment and iterate.  he stressed the importance of understanding the problem that you're trying to solve, and whilst I'm not entirely that sure his solution – hire an engineer to fix it – is feasible for everyone, the last of his comments is true for all of us … that "you have to resist the voice inside you that says only you knows the answer" let go of the problem and let the answer come to you…

you can view Marvin's prezi here.

Circus_erik_vervroegen up next in session two was Erik Vervroegen, who as the recipient of seventy Cannes Lions, is a very creative person indeed.  his thesis was that life in agencies is hard :o( … but don't feel too sorry for the ad agency kids just yet, because it turns out that the result of constrained conditions often produces the best work … the more problems you have the more creative you have to be…

problem one: no money (but free media to use and a super-tight production budget)…

…which was a problem faced by Amnesty International.  the answer for whom was to make this…

of this spot for the Nissan QashQai, where Vervrogen's agency came up with creating an entire fake sport…

McDonald's had no money and no time to combat a recycling message so recycled ads to create new posters…


it's so beautifully obvious in retrospect, but it takes someone to imagine such an elegant solution in the first place.  take these examples for Amora Hot Ketchup, the shoestring budget necessitated a shoestring production, which the creative embraces and uses to its advantage…

some of Vervroegen's most creative work is for AIDS prevention charity AIDES who's brief was "nobody knows us and we can't advertise but we want to be the biggest provider of Aids prevention in Europe' … the solution: target the advertising industry with the magic word 'awards'

if you want proof as to whether or not the strategy has worked I urge you to Google image search AIDES, but here are some of the highlights…







stunning, brilliant work for a client with no money but a lot of balls.

problem two: the impossible brief

Vervroegen quoted the following actual brief from an actual real life client (I'm paraphrasing) "we would like exactly the same ad as last time only this time we want it to work" … you couldn't make it up.  another example was the bread client who said that they wanted to show an entire breakfast table and demonstrate that their bread was the softest.  the solution:


Nissan QashQai asked Vervroegen to come up with an ad that showed the car in the urban environment and which showcased every angle of the car.  every angle.  every.  angle.  they actually said "think of it as a 45 sec 360 degree pack shot" … cue this beautifully elegant solution in which a 45 sec 360 pack shot has never looked so good…

Amnesty International want to show the power of a petition.  specifically in the background they wanted to show the harshness of torture and execution … without violence.  this poses a bit of a problem, as it's hard to show torture and execution without violence…

problem three: Burnt out creatives

…who feel sorry for themselves and are producing tired work.  the solution, observes Vervroegen, is to continue to push the idea.  and push and push as far as it will go…  for example a brief to show how Mir washing powder 'keeps black strong' let to the obvious place of clothes with budging muscles, which was able to be pushed to these fellas…




another example of pushing a bad idea until it becomes a good one was for a brief for Playstation to show rebirth, the idea for which was this tired (his words not mine) approach…


which was pushed to it's limit and resulted in this…


…an effort which secured one of Vervroegen's seventy Cannes Lion in the print category.  the last example, again for Playstation was around a brief to show the excitement of the Playstation gaming experience and equate it to sexual arousal.  here's the obvious sketch…


and here's the pushed execution…


that was it for session two.  I'll aim to get session three written up tomorrow…

innovating, planning, reaching

The inverse relationship between innovation and scale: and the tragedy of smart stuff that simply passes us by

this is good.  really good.  OK so no one is going to disagree with the fact that it's a cracking bit of insight-translated-into-execution.  but here's the thing…  does it reach enough people, and is that important?  and am I a bad planner for even asking that question?

I've written recently about the tyranny of reach and the grip that it holds on Australian marketers.  I observed that reach is, as Admiral Ackbar would say, a trap…  as long as it remains our default method of measurement, our modus enumeri if you like, we will eternally be lamenting our collective inability to stretch fewer resources over more places in more ways.

so I don't for a second give credence to 'reach-based' advertising, but I do suspect that in the main there's probably two kinds of media campaign in the world.  mainstream media campaigns that have scale, and innovative media campaigns that remain niche.  there are of course exceptions to this – those examples of innovative media thinking that break through and deliver scale, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule; by in large – from a media perspective – my bet is that there's an inverse relationship between scale and innovation…  a bit like this…

Scale_innovation_one avoiding the innovation vs. scale envelope into which most media campaigns fall

the challenge for any media effort is to get into the top right quarter, you want to innovate so that you cut-thru / are engaged with / generate earned media / bring down the overall cost-per-impact of your effort.  given these conditions, there are generally therefore only two ways to get top right…  either you attach scale to your innovative efforts or you inject innovation into existing scale.

a comment was made to me earlier in the week that one of the great benefits of using Facebook is the scale it can bring to an idea.  in this context you can rationalise how one of the main reasons Facebook's ad revenues are set to undergo such significant growth is because advertisers increasingly see it as a 'safe' way to bring scale to a schedule.  Facebook is a very good 'scaler'.

the alternative is to take an idea that already has scale and inject
innovation into it – I guess you could argue that efforts to, for
example, bring interactivity to TV sponsorship fit this model.

Scale_innovation_two methods to get you right and top – scalers and innovators

in a perfect world of course you shouldn't have to either attach scale or inject innovation into a plan; both should be inherent – we should be in the business of creating innovative communications ideas that travel.  but these are rare beasts…  and I suspect that whilst no doubt too many conventional solutions fail to innovate, the greater tragedy are the countless innovative media efforts that go to market without sufficient thought into how scale can be generated.  their failure to reach us is ultimately our loss.