Several ways in which my fancy has been tickled

Here are a few things I’ve been meaning to share over the last couple of weeks.

Hip-Hop and Golf

It surprises many people to learn that two of my great enthusiasms are golf and hip-hop. This visual (created by Mike Arauz and posted to BuzzFeed ) rather brilliantly ties the two together.

Romantic Comedies

It surprises no one to learn that I have a soft spot for Rom Coms. So it follows that I would have enjoyed 500 Days of Summer (in spite of the absolutely appalling last line of dialogue). And I did, in all its fluffy, Zooey, subverted love story goodness.

For no reason I can think of, here’s the trailer with the film reimagined as a thriller.  (Via Pirate Pickings)

Fate and Destiny

Which segues rather nicely into this story of a couple who, while planning their wedding, discovered that they’d crossed paths around 30 years earlier. Somehow it seemed inevitable that Disney would be involved. (Via someone on Twitter)

Soccer and Fashion

Soccer and Fashion have long been associated, but Sepp Magazine is the first I’ve seen focussed entirely on the fashion of soccer.  It wins points for a surprising  cover shot (below), player sketches by Karl Lagerfeld, and a series of uniforms imagined by the likes of Paul Smith and Giorgio Armani. (Via GQ)

Cool People and Slashing

This is so wonderfully pointless.  The clue’s in the name – hipsters have to pee. (via Get Kempt.)

I closed my Twitter account.

I closed my Twitter account about a month ago.

I did it for a couple of reasons, one of which I suspect must be very common.

The first was that what I was tweeting had drifted into an unfortunate territory. I found there was a risk for me in the way in that Twitter works, a dangerous confluence of immediacy, brevity and superficial community. I’d become one of those tiresome characters who feels the need to chip into conversations at a dinner party with what he thinks are witticisms, but are actually inanities. It was just too easy to say something off the cuff, which would be OK but for the fact that it’s being shared with the world, and so rather than the mild contempt of a few fellow diners you find you have a large group of people thinking you’re a twat. And because it’s often ostensibly a ‘direct’ conversation (even when you’re not DMing) you get lulled into thinking that it’s a private conversation, when it obviously is entirely public.

And worse than the inanities, I’d become snide. Twitter was all a bit insular, lots of advertising people talking to advertising people (with the grandstanding and one-upping that goes along with it) making comments that wouldn’t be at all outlandish when shared between a few friends with the context considered, but that were quite childish when shared with the world-at-large with the context removed.

Part of the problem is that Twitter has no nuance. When I make a throwaway comment to friend, experience informs meaning – there’s a tone of voice, a nod and a wink, an understanding of what I really mean, or, more importantly, the tone with which I mean it. But there’s none of that when a tweet or a post is read. It’s cold and literal.

None of this would be such a problem if not for the way in which Social Media has changed our attitude towards opinion. To state the obvious, one of the benefits of Social Media is its ability to let people share opinion. But one of the increasingly apparent downsides is the concomitant capacity for those opinions to be judged. We have a mechanism that encourages people to share opinions, quickly and widely – at a basic level encouraging people to say what they’re thinking without really thinking about what they’re saying. But then that same system fuels the judgement of what they say, treating them no longer as throwaway comments but as considered opinion.

You see it in how social media channels fuel controversy. There’s a momentum that drives people to share their view. The community finds an issue and lights a fire under it. But once the views start coming out there’s a parallel momentum to judge the validity of those views. At the risk of sounding ridiculously dramatic, it’s a subtle form of entrapment – Social Media facilitates the crime then casts the judgement.

I also started to get this sense of a different world. I found myself believing that a different set of rules applied, that the world of social media was creating something new, a place in which things were done quite differently. And this was beautifully self-reinforcing. I’d find myself mocking the people who ‘don’t get social media’ convincing myself that because there were people I could judge not to get it, that that must mean that there were different rules.

I thought I was fine because I had a basic principle I operated by. I’d puff out my chest and proudly say that I’d never post or tweet anything that I wouldn’t be prepared to say to someone’s face. Which was true, but missed the rather obvious point that I wasn’t saying it to their face. I was really saying it behind their back, but in a very public way. And the problem came when someone else said it to their face for me.

I don’t know who originally said it, but I’ve always loved the description of hotel rooms existing on an entirely different moral plane – the idea that things get done in hotel rooms that just wouldn’t be contemplated anywhere else, by people who know better. I guess I worry that Twitter’s a bit the same. It just has a dynamic to it that seems to draw a different line around acceptable commentary. (Tim Burrowes at Mumbrella does a lovely job of describing this phenomenon here. As one of the comments says, ‘I will endeavour to read this post at least once every three months’.)

The second reason I closed my Twitter account was that it just got so time consuming (I’m guessing this is quite common?). I realise that this is a failing of mine, not Twitter’s, but I was just never that good at being able to duck in and duck out. Once I started to make a few interesting connections via Twitter (and I did make some really interesting connections) I started to worry about the connections I was missing out on. So it all got a bit frantic, and I spent too much time on Twitter when I should have been spending time on the guitar, too much time on the keyboard when I should have been on the fret board (sorry).

So I’ve had a month off. I’ve recalibrated. I’m giving Twitter another go. And I’m trying very hard not to be concerned about what I missed out on during that month.

Wired and Adobe demo for iPad

A video from Wired and Adobe showcasing their plans for delivering the magazine for the iPad.

Social Media might just save Marketing. But not for the reason we think. (Re-post)

Lots of coverage in the last couple of days of the Toyota Yaris/Saatchi & Saatchi drama from Australia that I wrote about in my last post.  Tim from Mumbrella does an excellent summary of the whole episode here.

So I re-read this old post. The events of the last couple of days certainly highlight the dangers alluded to pretty well.

All those who have bemoaned the status that Marketing is accorded in most large organisations should take heart.  Our saviour might well be upon us.

It will be enormously ironic if it proves to be true, but my bet is that social media may yet see Marketing invited back to the boardroom table.

Why? Because the boardroom table respects those things that can either deliver great success or cause great harm.  For years Marketing hasn’t seemed to deliver much potential for either. Most Boards were highly sceptical of what value marketing could deliver (certainly when compared to more operational functions). And, in a logical corollary, they didn’t really fear what damage could be done if Marketing got something wrong.

They also didn’t really buy the argument that Marketing ‘owned’ the consumer.  Either because they didn’t see the need for the consumer to be at the heart of their business, or, more likely, because they felt that some combination of sales, retail, corporate affairs etc was just as capable of representing the consumer view.

We in the broader Marketing fraternity have found this frustrating and not a little insulting.  We tried very hard to argue that we knew exactly what we were doing, ours being a professional, regimented discipline, with proven success factors delivering strong return.  But (with apologies for being both simplistic and judgemental) we tended to fall down when called on to prove this, betrayed by our meaningless language and superficial analysis.

Our panic has increased as we’ve confronted a new digital world. We’ve seen our audience wrenched away, our traditional creative strengths made less relevant and, most frighteningly of all, the rise of social media with its democratisation of opinion, free sharing of points of view and returning of power to the people.

But this is actually what might save us.  Because social media is dangerous.  It has a power that every Board should be afraid of.  Its ability to galvanise people is remarkable, and its ability to galvanise people around an issue that can threaten any business needs to be respected.

And at the same time social media represents enormous opportunity, for it galvanises people around a positive issue just as effectively as a negative one.  It allows people to share in a great service initiative just as much as a botched one.

But while its unfortunate, the truth is that for most businesses fear dominates.  Fear forces decisions much more readily than opportunity, and my suspicion is that most businesses fear social media.   Which is where our opportunity lies.

Social media is Marketing’s responsibility (not entirely Marketing’s, obviously, but for the moment we’re the ones most likely to be taking the lead). And social media cements again the need for every businesses to have the consumer at its heart. Which is exactly where they, and we as Marketers, should be.

It will be ironic. Social media has been enormously unsettling for Marketers.  We don’t understand it yet and, if you’re of my vintage, it challenges much of what you’ve spent a career advocating.  But social media will revolutionise how businesses behave.  And it’s very likely to be fear of social media, the thing we marketers don’t really understand, that will see Marketing invited back to the boardroom table.

Once we’re there, hopefully we can help people see the opportunity too.

Instapaper. One of the best things ever.

If you spend any time online and haven’t been using Instapaper you really should. I can’t think of any single thing that’s improved my web experience more than this.

It’s a really simple bookmarking tool. Like digital post-it-notes.

Charging for online content – deal with the perception problem first

Another burst of coverage for the issue of payment for online content recently.  Ken Freer wrote a post here, Lance Wiggs wrote one here, new research from the Guardian indicates that only 5% of people would continue to access their favourite news site if required to pay and Mumbrella spoke to a group of senior Australian industry figures on the subject.

I believe that at a really basic level there’s a perception problem that has to be dealt with. It’s a classic positioning issue. And one that offers some interesting parallels between the publishing and advertising industries.

I think most people acknowledge that quality journalists are a valuable part of a questioning society.  I also think most people believe that good journalists help us make sense of the world around us.  And, for an admittedly smaller group of people, that good journalists produce work that informs, entertains and inspires.

So all logic would suggest that people would be prepared to pay something to ensure that we continue to benefit from the work those journalists do.  But as a society it seems clear we’re not prepared to do that – we actively begrudge being asked to do so.  Why?

The common view is simply that it’s a backlash against being asked to pay for something that was once free.  We’ve been taught that news online doesn’t cost anything. Understandably, we like that state of affairs.

Importantly, our experience of being charged for something that was previously free is that we’re being discouraged from using it. Think inner-city parking or toll-roads.  The key in this situation is to offer something better in a demonstrably different form – parking buildings that are safer places to leave your car, or less-congested toll-roads.  The form of delivery has to change to allow people to rationalise the cost. Because to pay for something that used to be free is stupid. And people don’t like to feel stupid. So maybe we need to give more thought to how we change the delivery of news if we expect people to pay for it – a change that’s small enough that it doesn’t add much cost, but significant enough that it adds much value.

But I think at least part of the issue is that we don’t believe we’re actually paying for journalists to do what they do. We believe we’re paying Rupert Murdoch and Barry Colman to own yachts.

It’s not accurate, but it is understandable.  These people have made huge sums of money from media ownership.  It’s inescapable.  They’re amongst the richest people in our nations, and very publicly so.  And that’s where we believe our money goes. Not to journalists who do work we admire and appreciate, but to media owners who live lives we envy and resent.

So if I were working for a media provider I think I’d be looking for ways to update the form of delivery and to make the journalist, as much as the title itself, the focus.  The first step lets me feel better about what I’m paying for, the second lets me feel better about who I’m paying.

And I think this is an interesting parallel for the advertising industry. We battle the same perception issue. Clients still believe we are spectacularly overpaid as individuals and hugely profitable as businesses.  We know it’s not true (and hasn’t been for a very long time).  When we try and negotiate remuneration we come up against a very similar problem. Such is the nature of procurement processes, we outline the staff who will work on behalf of a client, proportions of their time to be applied, and propose appropriate costs, allowing for salary, overheads and profit margins. But just like the journalists, I don’t believe most clients believe this is where their money goes. They believe it goes to the agency executives and their AMG Mercedes, international conferences and ridiculous, oversized watches.

Which isn’t fair or right, but it’s the perception.  What people value isn’t actually what they believe they’re paying for. And that’s the positioning challenge that both the advertising and media industries share.

I believe there’s also a second parallel.  Most people acknowledge the value of journalists. They appreciate the work the best of the best do – the stories they uncover, the tenacity they show, the enjoyment they deliver.  But it’s only a very small proportion of people who are interested enough to be able to make a judgement on this.  For the majority of people, it’s a case of pretty good is good enough.  While they understand that there are outstanding journalists out there, they see what they do as the exception, and as something that’s only marginally more valuable than the average.  Which isn’t something they’re prepared to pay for.

Which also seems to be true of advertising.  There are a few agencies that are capable of being genuinely, show-stoppingly, game-changingly brilliant. And then there are lots of agencies that are capable of being quite good.  At the risk of being a little unkind, I’m not convinced most clients are interested in making the distinction.  And they’re even less interested in paying for it. Because, as with the journalism business, the outstanding is considered only marginally more valuable than the average.

Which I think is the primary challenge, for both the publishing and advertising industries.  Again, it’s a perception issue we’re dealing with. The perception is that average journalism and average advertising are plenty good enough in most instances.  Success lies in making a much stronger distinction between outstanding and average, and the value that outstanding delivers.  Because I have to appreciate the value of what I’m getting before I’m prepared to pay for it.

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What media people can learn from taxi drivers

I flew back from Sydney last night. I spent a little bit of time enjoying the hospitality of the Qantas Club before my flight. And by hospitality I mean Campari.

I also enjoyed the in-flight service (and by service I mean Gordon’s) before having a nice little sleep. Which meant that by the time I got into a cab in Auckland I was a little…vague. Which may be reflected in this observation.

Because on the journey home I came to the conclusion that there’s a remarkable similarity between the media business and the taxi business. Here goes:

Everyone thinks they can do your job because it’s actually not very hard.

People pretty much begrudge what taxi drivers do. Most people know how to drive, so at a basic level believe they could do the job.

It’s the same for media people. Most people read, watch, browse and listen, so at a basic level believe they could do your job.

The answer is never right.

If a cab driver takes you to your destination via the most obvious route, they haven’t added any value. But if they take you via an unexpected route, they’re taking a risky option that you suspect will probably cost you more and take longer than the conventional route. You sit in the back of the cab suspicious that the other option would probably have been better.

It’s the same for media people. If a media person recommends the most obvious solution, they haven’t added any value, or, more damningly, thought innovatively. But if a media person chooses an unexpected media vehicle, they’re taking a chance on a risky option that you suspect will cost more and be less effective than the conventional choice. Either way, there’s always the sense that you might have done something else and that the other option might have been better.

Technology and costs are your problem.

People believe they should really only be paying for the driver’s time. I bet you do it. You take a 20-minute trip to the airport. It costs you $65. You think ‘that’s outrageous, that’s nearly $200 an hour he’s making’. Only he’s not. He’s running a car, paying for petrol, a GPS, a mobile eftpos machine and probably plenty more besides. But people don’t see why they should pay for that, because he needs them to do his job, so they’re his responsibility.

It’s the same for media people. Agencies pay significant amounts for research, training, premises etc, but clients don’t see why this is their issue (partly, in my view, because we keep telling them that people are our only asset). They pay for those people to work on their behalf. What we are required to provide those people so that they can do their job is our problem.

You should be able to anticipate problems before they happen.

If you’re a taxi driver you’re supposed to be able to anticipate when there are likely to be traffic problems. Two car collision outside a school on Remuera Rd at 3.06pm? You should have seen that coming. You are also supposed to know an alternative route that no one else is aware of that will allow these problems to be avoided. If you can’t anticipate these problems you have a passenger in the back unhappy because you’re obviously not very good at your job.

It’s the same with anticipating media problems. Banner for an oil company served on the same page as an article about irreversible environmental damage caused by excessive mineral exploration? You should have seen that coming. Two ads with very similar blue backgrounds on opposing pages of the Saturday paper? You should have seen that one, too. Because if you can’t anticipate these problems you are obviously not very good at your job.

What it says on the meter isn’t what it costs.

When you finish a taxi journey, what it says on the meter isn’t what it costs. There are things called ‘Extras’. That’s a word that immediately gets you offside. Extra? To what? And why? Then there are the surcharges and the service fees and it all just seems complicated and somehow underhand. It doesn’t matter whether the total cost is reasonable, it’s messy and carries the unmistakable whiff of rip-off.

It’s the same for media agencies. Commissions are awful. So are levies and monitoring charges. The simple outcome is that clients aren’t sure what they’re paying for. And clients don’t like that.

So then I got to thinking that if we are similar to taxi drivers, what might we be able to learn from them?

Be the best Taxi Driver you can.

There are some people who just want to be good at what they do. They take pride in the job and all that goes with it. While they very probably would like to be doing something else, you’d never know. While lots of media people broadly like what they do, they often wish they were doing something a bit cooler – a more senior job, a more interesting client or task – and you can tell.

It’s seldom the driving. It’s knowing when to shut up.

Most taxi drivers are adequate drivers (though we’ve all had the horror experience). It’s what goes around the driving that matters. Some passengers like to talk. Some like to listen. Some like silence. Clients are like that, too.

A clean taxi is good. A taxi with an in-seat DVD is bad.

A clean taxi suggests pride in one’s work and respect for one’s passengers. A clean boardroom and the offer of a glass of water do the same. A taxi with an in-seat DVD suggests an indulgent driver and fares that are probably too high. A retractable 52” flat screen and a tray of almond croissants do the same.

Confidence goes a long way.

I don’t like being asked which way I think we should go. But I don’t mind being told which way the driver thinks is best, and asked whether I agree.  My sense is that most clients feel the same way.

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