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Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Last Build Date: Wed, 12 Apr 2017 09:19:58 +0000


Keep Calm And Monetise.

Tue, 11 Apr 2017 14:42:00 +0000

Marketing is all about creating a sense of scarcity through functional differentiation or pricing. That gets harder in the world of abundance that characterises free or freemium business models. It gets harder still in the world of phone apps. had a problem. They were an early entrant into the mindfulness space. They were run by seasoned entrepreneurs. They provided their users with daily meditation guides. Daily meditation guides that too many of their users downloaded to their devices and didn't use.

Because signing up to a mindfulness app doesn't make you a practioner. And if you're not an active practitioner you're not much use as a prospect for upgrading to profitable, premium offerings.

Their solution is an elegant product hack. By making the downloads last only 24 hours, they created genuine scarcity. You no longer have a phone full of unused meditation guides, you now have one meditation guide that will disappear if you don't get serious about this mindfulness thing.

If you're not serious about meditation, this might irritate you a little, but that's presumably your default state so no problem there. But, if you're serious or want to be, it is exactly the kind of prompt that might nudge you to make the effort to practice daily. It's not a restriction,  it's an encouragment.

Soon enough, you appreciate that are actually helping you towards your goal. By doing so, they're also helping you towards their goal. Which is one reason why they're already profitable and have multi million dollar revenues.

Marketing is about changing behaviour; changing behaviour is about creating habits; and creating habits is about interaction. And this is a simple reminder that product is the first P of marketing.

Where's The Beef?

Thu, 30 Mar 2017 13:57:00 +0000

Your poster has my attention. You seem to be establishing a hierarchy of beef and suggesting that Scotch Beef sits at its pinnacle.

But you don't tell me why. You don't even give me a hint. You just assume I will be willing to devote some more of my attention to your website.

You lost my attention.

Make Marketing Credible.

Thu, 02 Feb 2017 16:18:00 +0000

This is the work of advertising craft that greeted me on a train a couple of days ago. It immediately felt wrong. Can you see what they've done there?

The first thing that struck me was the cueing action of the woman preparing to strike the white ball. It looks to me as if there's a real possibility that she's not even going to hit it but, even if she does, what shot is she playing? I was baffled. But then I realised that it didn't matter because the game is already over. There are just four red balls on the table and nothing else. And yet her compatriots are ridiculously over-excited by the non-situation. No wonder her cueing action has fallen apart.

By now, I was more engaged with the ad than expected and my attention switched from the art director's craft to that of the copywriter.  Added extras could be accused of superfluity but "More FREE added extras" really is laying it on thick even for Villa Plus. That said,  I note that punctuation is not one of the aforementioned extras.

There are a three sentences on this ad. One of them ends with a full-stop/period, the other two don't. And the one that does, hyphenates air-conditioning but doesn't hyphenate table-tennis (when to do so would arguably improve the blocking of the text) and thinks a comma between the much and much is too much - probably becase they've eschewed the Oxford comma after air-conditioning.

Pedantry? Perhaps. But let's get back to the art director. What's going on with the sun here? Was the logo incorporated into it at the top left or was that just the best place to put the logo and was the sun originally at top right? It's really hard to tell because the various shadows tell contrasting stories. Those around the pergola and those on the pool point to it having been top right. Many of the others look like attempts to make it top left while that one on the pool table suggests the sun is directly overhead.

Oh and while I'm at it, don't those sun-loungers appear to be on a slope while the pool table manages to maintain the horizontal? Maybe all this visual cognitive dissonance is a sneaky device designed to maintain my interest in the vista, but my two minutes were up and all I was left wondering was how on earth this sort of shoddiness got through a creative review at a major business and a substantial agency? Baffling Plus.

The 4 Ws Of Messaging.

Thu, 05 Jan 2017 17:57:00 +0000

The 4Ws of messaging are what you say, where you say it, when you say it and to whom you say it. I invented them in reaction to seeing this poster the other day.

For non-UK readers, the Northern Line is one of the lines of the London tube/subway system and one that has recently been synonymous with torrid travel. So, what is being said is clear enough. Not award-winning, but clear.

Unfortunately, I did not see this poster in London. Rather, it was on the back of a bus stop in a side-street in a commuter town. So, not the optimal where - especially as the side-street was nowhere near the town's station. And that means that commuters who might have a knowledge of the Northern Line were unlikely to see it.

So, not the optimal who either.

None of this is necessarily the fault of the non award-winning copywriter and art director (unless the brief was to create a nationally relevant campaign) even if it does suffer from metropolitan centricism. But it does serve as a reminder that media buyers should focus on the message they're placing as well as the audience in front of whom they're being asked to place it.

Narrative Fallacies.

Tue, 03 Jan 2017 15:45:00 +0000

The new year brings an invitation to a story-telling webinar.

An article about it asserts that "In the past, before tech came and muddled everything, a brand's objective was simple: create engaging stories to capture the public's imagination and endear them to the brand"

No, no, no. Marketing is not about stories. Stories are made up. Stories are contrived. Stories are disbelieved.

No. Great marketing is about uncovering and communicating truths. Not truths that please the CMO or support the Board's delusions aboutthe nature of their customers. But truths that resonate with the lives of real people and make them more inclined to buy your product or service.

And, yes, suggesting that your product or service wil make the user feel like a superhuman is a legitimate story, even if we and they both know that they won't actually become superhuman. Because that's not the truth.

Make Marketing Contextual.

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 16:48:00 +0000

Perhaps I'm being pedantic, but the first time I saw this bus I found myself completely confused by the bland Jingle and Tonic and my primary identification was with Tanqueray Gin. I don't know if some brand manager insisted on the brand name being the first word, but swapping the 12 Twists of Christmas and the Schweppes logo seems to me to produce a far more comprehensible whole.

You decide to run a campaign on the side of a bus. You know that people read from left to right. You presumably understand that buses are mobile and that people will often have a very limited time to absorb your message. And still you choose to put what is effectively the header that contextualises the message on the far right of the image? The headline at the bottom of the page.

If this were online, people would be all over the user experience of the communication. Offline, it's maybe even more important.

Sharing The Sharing Economy.

Sun, 20 Nov 2016 08:57:00 +0000

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In anticipation of an imminent IPO and with an eye on the myriad regulatory threats to its original business model, Airbnb have announced Trips. Guests will now be offered guided tours by local hosts.

You can argue that these will be personalised, authentic and non-corporate versions of existing tours that might expose the guest to the benefits of truly local knowledge. I wouldn't be surprised if that's how the management rationalised this brand extension. But, as an outsider, it also looks like they think package tours will paradoxically appeal to independent travellers and that's just odd.

I'm not saying they won't be popular. I'm also sure there will be regulatory issues (tour guides in many countries are required to be licensed) but I'm not sure that Airbnb have put themselves in their users' shoes.

Have they asked what could our users do with what we offer or have they asked what can we offer our users? They are very different questions and, I imagine, existing hosts who've already been doing this as an adjunct to their hosting might not be pleased to give up a share of that income. That's not what they understood by the sharing economy, but it is what the platforms mean.

What Marketers Should Know About Filter Bubbles.

Tue, 15 Nov 2016 16:47:00 +0000

Filter bubbles work via confirmation bias. People construct them to reinforce their worldview. It's far from clear that demolishing filter bubbles will lead to people changing their worldview. Biases abide.

That Kodak Momentum.

Fri, 11 Nov 2016 15:43:00 +0000

Kodak has become the poster-child for bad incumbent management. We all know the story. They controlled 90% of the film and camera market in the mid-1970s but were ultimately "disrupted" by eight people working at a start-up called Instagram.

Of course, that's nonsense if only because it overlooks the thousands of people involved in the creation of phone and internet infrastructure without which Instagram has no business and the fact that Kodak invented the digital camera in 1975.

As for disruption, Clay Christensen puts an interesting slant on the received wisdom and points out that Kodak invested $8billion trying to get digital photography right. Yes, there were mis-steps like the focus on cameras, but to criticise Kodak management alone is to forget that the market has to be ready for an innovation.

What job does photgraphy do for the person in the street? It's not an easy question to answer. A repository of memory perhaps? In the days before digital, you took your photos, you had the film developed and you looked at your disappointing results. Once. Maybe twice. And then they resided in a drawer - as they still do today. Not doing their job. Or any job for that matter.

At some point in the past, Kodak got closer to the truth when they started to offer double prints for the price of one. The examination ritual continued to be played out, but the user also had the opportunity to give/mail a print or two to a loved one.

In doing so, he or she was able to tell the recipient that they were thinking of them and this was what they'de been doing even though they didn't have the time or inclination to write them a letter. Analog Facebook was born.

Many years later, new technology allowed the job to be done seamlessly and unthinkingly and Kodak's goose was cooked. The job to be done had been distilled and the identified user need could be addressed. That's the real lesson. And the fact that I used the word unthinkingly makes me wonder if that might mean the seeds of its disruption is already built in to the latest solution. Time will tell.

Really Identifying User Needs.

Wed, 09 Nov 2016 23:15:00 +0000

I recently learned that Evian's target audience is a group labelled "Leaders in Life".  This information emerged from a presentation that was ostensibly an attempt to justify their sponsorship of Wimbledon but, at heart, was yet another bizarre attempt by marketers to suggest that a disparate group of people has a similar outlook.

The idea that people's physical and mental attributes determine their behaviour is a short-cut to oblivion as millennialism has shown. Anyone who thinks that a group of minimally 1.5 billion humans is likely to behave and think the same is seriously deluded.

It's an approach that originates with the marketer and their products and services when what is needed is an approach that is more thoughtful and customer-centric. One that focusses on user need rather than tries to create user wants.

Clay Christensen is best known for his somewhat misunderstood disruption theory of innovation, but  he's also developed a very interesting critique of marketing's demographic segmentation obsession. In it, he convincingly argues that life creates a series of moments in time when you need to hire a product or service to get a specific job done.

Marketers have to identify what that job is; shape their product or service to fulfil that job seamlessly; and communicate that fact so that when the job has to be done, it is their product or service which immediately comes to the customer's mind.

Everything flows from the user need.

Marketing Poll.

Tue, 08 Nov 2016 15:33:00 +0000

I understand the sentiment. The election is important and there will be a flood of dreadful blogposts and promotional articles that draw false lessons from it. But, I couldn't disagree more.

The election is exactly the sort of case study from which we should be drawing marketing lessons because it addresses a huge and engaged audience. Lessons about strategy and tactics, lessons about communication and calls to action, and lessons about infrastructure and earned versus paid media.

Because it's not some silly meme or the latest new shiny thing but a significant decision about which so many people rightly care.

Marketing Communication Matters.

Wed, 02 Nov 2016 23:15:00 +0000

It's 2016 and still you get stuff like this.

Do I click OK to agree with the question or do I click cancel because that's what I wanted to do?

Or do I lose the will to live?

Make Marketing Longer.

Tue, 01 Nov 2016 23:33:00 +0000

Les Binet and Peter Field delivered the latest raft of their advertising effectiveness research yesterday. It was especially interesting because their analysis increasingly covers the digital age and begins to slay some of the myths about changing media behaviour.

Key takeaways included.

Short-termism in marketing is undermining effectiveness - it boosts ROI but not profit growth. This ties in with their existing thesis that brand-building campaigns generate longer terms sales growth where activation campaigns might cause short term sales spikes but spikes that dissipate quickly as they target the low-hanging fruit of customers who are already about to buy.

The optimal split of marketing expenditure should be 60% brand building and 40% short-term activation.  Current activation rates of 47% are clearly sub-optimal, so it's  interesting thtat Unilever CEO has banned quarterly reporting for marketing effectiveness because he rightly sees that the best marketing doesn't operate on a quarterly schedule.

Television is key to successful marketing campaigns and increases a campaign's effectiveness by 40%. This again relates to their original thesis - video is repeatedly shown to be the most effective medium for stimulating an emotional response and it is emotional response that builds brands. As a side-note, it was also suggested that marketers need to be aware of which media are better at brand-building and therefore should not be used in activation mode.

ROMI (return on marketing investment) is a misguided focus. It can be increased simply by reducing budgets, but since promotions reduce margins, overall profitability can fall. As Peter Field said real-time marketing is all too often deal-time marketing and that just reinforces the importance for marketers to be numerate and to know their way round an income statement.

I'm still a little wary that their data-set is derived solely from IPA effectiveness award papers and I'm not clear how closely the validity of those individual papers is scrutinised. But the rigour of the analysis is praiseworthy and its lessons should be acted on by more marketers than currently seems to be the case.

An Apple Video A Day.

Mon, 31 Oct 2016 13:00:00 +0000

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Some people who don't like the new Macbook Pros have highlighted this old video. In it, Steve Jobs talks about the dangerous impact the rise of "sales and marketing" can have on product development.

I'll overlook his use of the dreaded "sales and marketing" conflation and agree he makes a good point, but it's not the one that other people think he's making. He's simply reminding us of the pre-eminence of product in the marketing mix.

Now, his disdain for Sculley and Pepsico is clear and the world is indeed full of idiotic brand extensions and even more spurious claims to innovation, but a new bottle size could be just as much an innovation as a new technical specification if it reflects an acknowledgement of a new customer behaviour or need.

And this is what the complainants are missing. The Macbok Pros may not meet their upgrade criteria, but there's an argument to be made that the changes reflect Apple's view of the wider market and the decreasing importance of the laptop segment as more and more buisness functions are run on increasingly sophisticated iPads and iPhones. After all, Marc Benioff was claiming he ran from his phone back in 2014.

So, this is not necessarily proof that bad marketers are in the ascendancy at Apple. Nor are Xiaomi's falling sales proof of what happens when a business is avowedly opposed to promotion. Steve Jobs knew all of this. To infer he was opposed to marketing is to ignore everthing he did.

The Marmite Effect.

Tue, 25 Oct 2016 22:29:00 +0000

When the Unilever/Tesco spat blew up a couple of weeks ago, my immediate tongue in cheek response was to tweet that it was a clever marketing ploy designed to get a lot of earned media for low involvement products like Marmite.

Fast forward to today and I found myself in an online debate with some smart people after it was revealed that Marmite sales had soared by 61% during the dispute.

To my surprise, the majority were suggesting that this sales spike was all a bonus and would be reflected in the end of year sales total.

My argument is that I doubt one single unit of marmite was sold to a new user and that what we saw was a bunch of existing customers bringing forward an imminent purchase for fear that future shortages or price rises would disadvantage them. Exactly the sort of panic buying that the article claims wasn't happening. Yeah, right.

I'm a fully paid up memeber of the Byron Sharp school of saliency and accept that the publicity would generally be a good thing, but I think Marmite may be an exception. If we're to believe their advertising, this is a product that polarises and so it might be assumed that light users are few and far between. I don't know if this is true. It's just a feeling I have and if I'm right,then the amount of genuinely new sales is going to have been tiny.

Yes sales went up 1.2% during those two days, but that's a short-term spike and the proof of the pudding will be seen in a year's time when we'll see whether annual sales have risen by 1.2%. Or more. Or less. My bet is on the latter.

We rightly attack short-term effects in marketing (especially in effectiveness award papers) but then get super excited about this extraordinarily short term incident. Sometimes, marketers just baffle me.

Plenty Of Fish Where The Fish Are.

Sat, 22 Oct 2016 21:54:00 +0000

This is a snap of the analog equivalent of Subway Crush and that appears in a free paper distributed at railway stations in the UK.

I don't know how many connections are made, but I'd imagine it's not a large number given the randomness of the process and the paucity of recent activity on Subway Crush.

But here it's even less likely to happen because, as the guy who tweeted this points out, she's an avid book-reader being targetted with a message in a publication she clearly ignores. A perfect example of focussing on the broadcast to the exclusion of the recipient.

Now, the people selling ad space in the free paper would identify the woman as typical of their target demographic - something like literate aspirational commuter.  A perfect example of focussing on categorising the consumer rather than understanding the context of the experience.

 Fish where the fish are.

Under(estimating) The Influence.

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 11:20:00 +0000

If there's one thing I distrust more than the reams of unthinking nonsense written about influencer marketing, it's the idea that self-reported attitudinal research has any validity.

I've seen it claimed that the graphic above shows that social media "influencers" have little effect on people. I treat that claim with the same credence that I give to people who claim they're not influenced by advertising.

But, equally,  I wish that the influencer marketing zealots would read a little network theory and accept that virality is dependent on the structure of the network rather than the popularity of the "influencer".  Receptivity trumps volume every time.

Make Marketing Miserable.

Sun, 16 Oct 2016 20:06:00 +0000

At the recent Future Of Marketing 2016 conference, philosopher Alain de Boton reminded his audience that "marketing needs to admit that life can be miserable".

It's an outlook that obviously chimes with a philosophy that I outlined here ten years ago and which notes that every moment of frustration in a person's day is a marketing opportunity.

Clayton Christensen of disruption fame has a new book coming and it's focussed entirely on this concept of customers hiring brands to do a job for them in their life - a job which can range from quenching their thirst to making them feel better about themselves.

Marketing doesn't have to be about inspiration or aspiration, it's about being the brand that gets the job done.

Make Marketing Mythical.

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 10:20:00 +0000

Target crunched their data so that they could predict when women were pregnant - they did so in order to allow them to market all sorts of products to their families. There was outrage. We've all heard the story. I heard it again today. But is it true?

I had a memory of finding out that it wasn't true some years ago and I turned up this post that paints the whole episode as a theoretical discussion at a conference being reported as fact a year later.  

But this was something pointedly new, and I turned my head to scan the audience for any reactions. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Normally, for marketing projects, Predictive Analytics predicts buying behavior. Here, the thing being predicted was not something marketers care about directly, but, rather, something that could itself be a strong predictor of a wide range of shopping needs. After all, the marketer's job is to discover and pounce on demand. You can think of this predictive goal as a "surrogate" (sorry) for the pertinent shopping activities a retail marketer is paid to care about. 

A few months after Pole's presentation, New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg interviewed me. Exploring, he asked for interesting discoveries that had come from Predictve Analytics. I rattled off a few and included pregnancy prediction, pointing him to the online video of Pole's talk, which had thus far been receiving little attention, and introducing him to Pole. I must admit that by now the privacy question had left my mind almost entirely. 

One year later, in February 2012, Duhigg published a front-page New York Times Magazine article, sparking a viral outbreak that turned the Target pregnancy prediction story into a debacle. 
The article "How Companies Learn Your Secrets," conveys a tone that implies wrongdoing is a foregone conclusion. It punctuates this by alleging an anonymous story of a man discovering his teenage daughter is pregnant only by seeing Target's marketing offers to her, with the unsubstantiated but tacit implication that this resulted specifically from Target's Predictive Analytics project.

I haven't yet watched the video of the original talk, but this sounds like reasonable doubt to me. And still the myth prevails. Because despite all the claims marketers make about data, they're still too lazy to check even the basic facts.

Arrested Development's Over-reaction?

Mon, 10 Oct 2016 11:38:00 +0000

Netflix famously released the new season of Arrested Development in one hit in 2013. They did so because habits had changed and the practice of binge viewing had emerged. It didn't go well

Some habits have changed, but TV viewing is not collapsing (despite the received wisdom). The rationale was that people like to binge on serials (see Grant McCracken here ) but it struck me as an odd decision even if some people's viewing habits have changed.

Arrested Development fans didn't fall for the programme in this way (it had been 7 years since the series was broadcast). Netflix's revival of the series was sufficiently publicity-worthy. That was the event. No further stunt was needed

Arrested Development wasn't  viewed that way before so to do this required a change in the writing method which runs the risk of reducing the magic.

Arrested Development and other hip things have a position, they stand for something. But this was reactive marketing that aligned it with every other series and again diminshed the specialness of the event.

Bingeing is not fully understood - is bingeing watching the whole series in one sitting as people were prompted to do here or is it watching series rather than run the gauntlet of tv schedules? Wouldn't it have been enough to release batches of shows and let the tension rise?

Some reviewers watched episodes on a one by one basis and asked their audience to do the same and comment thereon. To reflect and digest as originally intended rather than hoover it all up because you can and because you can wear the bingeing badge.

Movies arent 8 hours long. TV viewing on average is 4hrs a day. So why encourage people to watch 8? It's bizarre.and it distorts and leads to reviews by people who are watching it in a different way than they did before, watching differently written programmes than they did before and reacting differently from how they did before.

Behaviours change and that's important to track, but understanding the context of that change is much more important.

P.S. If you're wondering why I give such an old example, the reason is simple. This was a post I'd drafted at the time and not got around to posting. It was interesting to notice that how I thought then is not so different from how I think now and to note the marketing fuss made about a trivial act of PR. Tactical marketing needs to be more strategic than this - done for a valid reason, not simply because it's possible.


Wed, 05 Oct 2016 09:04:00 +0000

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After 30 days, activist Rob Greenfield will be wearing 135 pounds of trash that he will have generated while "living just like the average American". In the video, subway riders studiously ignore him. Because New York.

But I have a feeling that this one will go viral. A striking visual image that makes the intangible real,  visible and memorable. A striking visual image that will be spread by others. That's how you do marketing communication.

Marketing Like It's 2006.

Tue, 04 Oct 2016 11:31:00 +0000

I started writing this post when the PR relases started appearing a few months ago. I was going to rant about the fuss they were making about what is now a derivative marketing tactic focussed on attracting the mythical millennials.  Now we can see how the campaign developed.

A lot of these videos don't actually demonstrate a reason to use the service because they don't feature much in the way of motoring. Unsurprising when they feature walking cities like Rome. And crucially there's no individuality - you could substitute any of their competitors into this format and the viewer would be none the wiser.

I'm sure the agency will claim all sorts of engagement metrics were achieved. But to what end?

Normal Service Will Resume Shortly.

Fri, 30 Sep 2016 15:52:00 +0000

After ten years of continuous blogging, I began to think I was repeating myself in airing my frustrations about the business world and my place in it. I'm determined to make this a temporary hiatus and will try to think of something new to write soon.

Make Marketing Bolder.

Fri, 20 May 2016 19:50:00 +0000

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The new Clearasil campaign has rightly been getting a lot of praise for its clever tone of voice that parodies awkward corporate attempts to understand the youth market - even though they claim it's a parental voice for reasons that elude me. By doing so, they're able to produce what is quite a straightforward hard sell in the midst of a comedic approach that doesn't patronise.

I was amazed to read that it was difficult to get the client to buy into ta concept that is so obviously right. Perhaps that explains why some of the executions strike me as a little bland and repetitive.

I wish they'd been bolder and I especially wish they hadn't completely omitted the teens' voice. To my mind they missed a chance to empower the potential customer and make them laugh.

In the iteration posted above, I immediately envisaged one of the teens producing a phone from beneath the water and calling ths police or perhaps simply shouting out in a bemused, unthreatened way "Mom. There's a weird man in our hot tub!"

That sort of catch phrase is the thing that memes are made of and might well lead to the unearned media and sharing that everyone wants.

Who knows, it might even set of an instagram meme with people reproducing scenes of "There's a weird man in our hot tub" featuring any variety of family members, TV characters or Superheroes. The permuatations are endless.

Alternatively, the awkward hashtag request could be met by the teens showing flash cards with #lame on them.

Maybe this sort of thing is in the pipeline, but at the moment the YouTube clips have very few views and hardly any comments and that's a shame.

Inattention To Detail.

Sat, 30 Apr 2016 19:41:00 +0000

I'm not sure if it's a mistranslation of an ad that originated in another country or simple incompetence, but I've been baffled by a recent Voltarol ad.

The voiceover uses the wrestling term “forearm smash” when illustrating how Voltarol has enhanced the "forehand smash" of the narrator’s wife's tennis game.

Pedantry perhaps, but it’s inexcusable given the amount of people involved in approving such a spot. People supposedly focused on engaging rather than confusing viewers.