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Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Last Build Date: Fri, 28 Oct 2016 10:21:46 +0000


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.

Umbrella Marketing Is For Marketing Umbrellas.

Wed, 30 Mar 2016 14:07:00 +0000

A current Olivio advertisement spends the majority of its duration evoking ideas of Italian heritage and artisinal authenticity to be attached to its industrially-produced butter spread with added olive oil.

So far, so unexceptional. But then it’s topped off with the imposition of the Unilever corporate logo that undercuts everything that’s gone before. I’ve written before about this type of boardroom ego-trip, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it actually at odds with the marketing message.

Why do they think the Unilever logo will enhance the customers’ retail choice architecture in any way that their product positioning will not? How many products do they think shoppers can identify as coming from the Unilever stable?

Personally, I’m not sure I could be certain of more than two and I sadly have more interest in the question than the man or woman in the supermarket.

Twenty eight seconds is barely enough time to tell a story let alone enough to indulge in sub-plots. Do their marketers want to tell the Italian story or the Unilever story? They need to choose one.

Make Research Interesting.

Sat, 27 Feb 2016 10:50:00 +0000

Here's an art project from which research companies could learn a lot.

Everything We Touch literally illustrates one of my basic marketing axioms. Don't ask people what they think they do, find out what they actually do.

Every thing that each person has touched in a twenty four hour period is laid out chronologically on the same sheet. You don't see opinions, you see actual data and from that starting-point can construct and interrogate a day's narrative.

In the book, the photo creates a double-page spread that the reader can peruse and guess about before turning over to find a diagrammatic breakdown that identifies every item and a brief profile of and intereview with the person concerned.

The prevalence of Apple products and fresh food rather gives the game away that this is an affluent and creatively-skewed group of people, but there's no reason that the concept couldn't be expanded. Research that attracts and engages. How's that for differentiation?

As an industry colleague commented: "Few researchers do that because they only want to do what they’re going to be paid for rather than what we may find interesting."

Make Marketing User-Centric.

Tue, 26 Jan 2016 14:20:00 +0000

Is it just me or does that sound remarkably product-centric when marketing should be user-centric? More evidence that Twitter doesn't actually understand its users?

It's the type of thinking that emphasises screen brightness and other fripperies when users are more interested in battery life.

Make Marketing Less Complicated.

Wed, 30 Dec 2015 22:31:00 +0000

“You want to try everything and you can do anything, but at the same time, there’s no model to work off of. There’s no blueprint for success. We’re trying a lot of things and we’re throwing a lot of stuff at the wall. But you have to in this space. Nobody has the formula. Now as we start to see what’s working and what’s not, we’re really learning what our fans want.”
A statement from a report in 2014 about the NCAA's new social media "strategy" that I found in my draft posts. It didn't become a post back then because there's no mileage in picking holes in such approaches, but today it echoes the type of prevailing marketing sentiment that worries me greatly.

Overcomplication for the sake of it and a bizarre willingness to admit that they don't know what works (while simultaneously bemoaning their lack of credibility in the boardroom) are marketing traits that I loathe.

We exist to connect product and services to customers who want and benefit from them - it's really that simple and I hope in 2016 we all remember that while it's not easy, it doesn't need to be complicated.

Mindless Branding.

Tue, 24 Nov 2015 15:57:00 +0000

From yesterday's London evening paper.

Small business agony aunt Jo Malone explains how to pick the right place to sell your products.
Dear Jo
I have just started a handbag brand.
I need to decide whether to sell my handbags on my website or through another retailer’s.
Should I sell it online until the brand has gained recognition before approaching buyers?
This is a great question and one that many new businesses struggle with.

No, it's not a great question. The writer has not created a handbag brand. They have decided to make a range of handbags. Nobody knows about them. There is no brand value, there is no brand equity, there is no brand.

This is what happens when the words used by marketers seep into public consciousness. Nonsense ensues. You don't start anything with a brand. You start with a user need and, one hopes, potential customers who might like your stuff enough to buy it.

Pretending you're a corporation with a marketing department that's busy finding clever-sounding work by which to justify its existence really isn't the way to go.

If Your Marketing Needs An Asterisk Revisited.

Thu, 08 Oct 2015 22:54:00 +0000

The claims looks clear enough, but there's one of those pesky asterisks that always bugs me. Does it reveal a small sample size? No, nothing so mundane. It reveals a new reality where 84 equals 85.

What were they thinking of?

It Ain't What You Do.

Mon, 21 Sep 2015 22:24:00 +0000

Not all products and services are glamourous. Marketing them well says a lot about the quality of the marketers involved. If you can make the unappealing, appealing then you're a good marketer.

Bodily functions and ailments aren't glamourous, but that doesn't mean the marketing has to fall into the trap of withdrawing into the dull or antiseptic.

Don't bore on about how you solve the problem, just demonstrate what hardship you're removing from their life. How you can set them free.

How do you make the unappealing appealing?

By focusing on the indirect effects. By using brief, clear copy and an elegant and witty image. By being bright (in every sense).

Design Misthinking.

Mon, 31 Aug 2015 21:40:00 +0000

It looks like a clever solution. But really the designer has put the walker in a precarious position and made their journey more mind-consuming than the quicker but longer alternative.

The design has been given precedence over the purpose. Like much marketing, it's become a goal unto itself.

Much better to place a complete strip/bridge across the grille. It wouldn't look as obviously clever as the pictured "solution" but that's what makes it really clever.

Observations From The Conference Frontline.

Wed, 29 Jul 2015 07:53:00 +0000

I recently heard the odd claim that people love lots of brands that they don't buy. Predictably, the advertising industry audience nodded and wrote down the wisdom. I'm sorry but that's patent nonsense. It's a truly odd type of love that inspires apathy. No, people largely don't care about (let alone love) brands and the sooner we all acknowledge that the better.

You may think you're "keynoting", I think you're delivering platitudes at a mediocre event.

And, if your marketing communication claim requires an asterisk (be that for regulatory or statistical explanation reasons), it's not really worth making.

Unevenly Distributed Futures.

Mon, 29 Jun 2015 14:34:00 +0000

Two sentences from a keynote lecture last week.

 "Almost everyone, almost everywhere, carries with them one of the most profound symbols of digital transformation the world has ever seen."

To me, that was alarming enough coming  as it did from a UK government minister who should be more aware of the issues of the digital divide that such an assertion overlooks.

But, within a couple of minutes, he followed with this bizarre clarification of "almost everyone, almost everywhere":

"Today over a quarter of the world’s population own one. It’s both a symbol and a cause of the change we’re living through."

 To be fair, the rest of the speech was good stuff, but while I'm all for progress and futurism, it's also impoetant to stay grounded in reality.

 Otherwise, you get things like this from Cannes where global chief cretaive officer Tham Kei Meng apparently declared that "many of the ads submitted for awards were conservative and should be making more use of innovations such as Oculus Rift".

Because, of course, so many of his clients' customers are walking around with VR headsets and will benefit from such inventive thinking!

Too Clever By Half.

Sun, 31 May 2015 18:48:00 +0000

I've become increasingly annoyed by marketers' desire to overcomplicate everything. A recent case in point occurred after a presentation by an advertising industry veteran to whom I had introduced myself. We were joined by a guy who professed to having a background in neurology and was fascinated by how MRI scans could be utilised to better understand the brain and be used to create better advertising.

Notwithstanding the fact that no decent neuroscientist would make any claim about what an MRI tells us (other than the part of the brain that is active at the time of the scan), I hardly think better advertising should be on the list of things that folllow from any such understanding. To his credit, the veteran made the salient point that the brain and the mind are not the same thing.

Why the aversion to keeping it simple. The first port of call is to place yourself in the customer's position. And that's not so hard because we are all customers - maybe not of the product/service you're selling, but of some thing similar. And let us always remember that customers neither work in agencies nor live the agency lifestyle.

Bottom line - as mentioned in this lovely documentary about two successful lyricists fitting their very different words to the same tune - it's better to be right than clever.

A Good Idea Is Only The Start.

Thu, 23 Apr 2015 23:31:00 +0000

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It's long been known that our ability to read exceeeds the speed at which we usually read. Last year, there was a lot of buzz around a speed-reading app called Spritz and, more recently, Honda sought to link the concept with their mechanical excellence in a series of three videos.
1.165 million views of the first video suggest that a lot of people enjoyed the demonstration of cognition speed and it is undeniably well executed.

But the 346,000 who viewed the follow-up didn't get what they could have got. The new experience is just the old one speeded up and that strikes me as a missed opportunity - both to expand the concept and, more relevantly, to deliver a second message to engaged viewers.
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They might walk away from that impressed that cognition is even faster than they thought, but they might also have considered the possibility that the fact that they knew the message might have an impact on that subsequent cognition. I've no idea if that's a valid consideration, but it certainly crossed my mind.

It seems to me that if a different set of words had been introduced in the second ad, or incorporated into the first so that the two speeds were experienced without the need to click through to a second spot, then the impact would have been greater.

Good ideas are hard to find, but once you do it's worth asking how can we make this even better.

Watch The Appeal.

Wed, 18 Mar 2015 12:15:00 +0000

While reading a 2009 interview with Marc Newsom,  I was struck by this seemingly innocuous exchange.

Louise Neri: Is the Solaris a unisex watch? 

Marc Newson: Yes, I’ve never really designed for men or women but most of my watches tend to appeal to men because of their scale and weight. Perhaps this is the first of my watches that will appeal as much, if not more, to women.

Maybe it's my obsession with the negative, but it seems to me that what he should have been asking why his previous watches had repelled many women. It's a similar question, but different.

Check Your Insight.

Thu, 05 Mar 2015 23:54:00 +0000

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That's one of the nicer variations on the inattention blindness theme originally demonstrated in the famous invisible gorilla experiment from 1975. Slickly and amusingly done.

Unlike this new Skoda ad.

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The obvious edits are irritating enough, but then what are we left with? Here's a car that holds your attention. That's not even a minimum viable proposition.

I thought we'd all agreed that attention was a given and marketing needed to aim for more than that, but apparently the memo didn't reach everyone.

What's worse is that the experiment shows that people are inattentive. People don't notice things. That's how you should use it in an ad.

You should not use it to suggest that people who are inattentive will pay attention to your car simply because it's parked in the street. There's no explanation as to why they would pay less attention to anything else that was parked there. Worse still, repeated viewings will inevitably focus attention on everything but the car.

The whole point of research is to unearth a new truth, not to underpin a lazy creative idea.