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A learner’s resolution. Guide to surviving the new world of advertising.

I was fortunate to meet with the great Sanjay Khare a few days ago. For those who don’t know Sanjay, he is an advertising veteran having spent over three decades in the business. He is now reinventing himself as a digital marketing specialist at Pinstorm. Sanjay was speaking to a bunch of students at a college do, telling them how he always wears an “L” board every time he goes lecturing.

In a world that’s changing every day I think everyone of us could do with Sanjay’s attitude.  Hang a metaphorical board around our necks, step out to embrace change by understanding new ideas and concepts as they emerge and get drawn into the mainstream.

So here folks, for whatever it’s worth, my game-plan to learn and stay relevant as things change around me. Over the years I have put down a process, a ritual as I call it, and if I have not already bored you to death at a party with my theories, maybe worth spending the next few minutes on.

When I started out in this business, the world was still analog. We relied on expensive award show annuals from One Show, British D&AD, Art Director’s Club or magazines like Communication Arts, Archive, Print and rare issues of Creative Review and Admap to feed our need for knowledge. Today the world of learning comes to us at broadband speeds, and free (mostly).  With sites like Ads of the World, The FWA, The Inspiration Room, The Dieline and not to miss out on a very important plug, this very website Campaign India.

Now I have never been a person who only looked at other advertising for inspiration and knowledge. So part of the learning process involves devouring magazines like Wired. I started out with second hand copies bought off the pavements of Brigade Road, Bangalore. Pop Sci. Reading authors like Tom Peters (don’t forget to check out his brilliant collection of PPT slides under the resources link), Ries & Trout, hell I even read their lame duck tome, Horsesense. Edward De Bono. Sun Tzu, Martin Lindstorm

By the late 90s, the web became my feeding ground. Using bookmarks and later a MyYahoo page, I dived deep into the endless pool that the information revolution had created. For a guy interested in new things, there was no end to know much he could read and understand. Soon blogs were upon us and some of the best minds whose books I waited for, for months and years, started to write their own blogs. Seth Godin, soon Tom Peters and Sally Hogshead.

Then in around 2003 I discovered RSS. Or Real Simple Syndication. For a learner, discovering feed readers was moment of nirvana. From a forager of information, feed readers like Bloglines brought stuff I liked onto my desktop. Instead of me looking for stuff on various sites, knowledge was waiting for me everytime I opened my browser. At the peak of my feed addiction, I was reading up to 700 blogs and RSS enabled websites a day (now it’s a more manageable 56). From ones that posted a few times a month to others like BoingBoing and Metafilter that posted many, many times a day. Glancing through some 2000 bits of new information a day, reading some 50 pieces or so that interested me and absorbing, sharing and using a dozen or so a day.

On a personal level I have had to make a few adjustments too. First and most important to set aside some time every day for learning. It’s easy to make excuses. We are busy, working hard, travelling, making presentations, pitching. Yawn.

For me, the fear of irrelevance, even worse obsolesce motivates me to get off the bed early every morning. And I do this every morning, every day, no matter how late I have slept, whether I am in town or on holiday. If I can have net access, I will clean up my feeds by the time I head out of home.

These days, Twitter has become a rich source of new stuff. G+ from being seen as a Facebook killer has become more like my Bloglines killer, where people I know and respect post interesting links and videos. I pick up an odd bit or two from Facebook through the day. As information and content sources grow online, I feel I am using other people as filters to filter what reaches me.

So what do I take forward into 2012 as a learner’s resolution? To glance less and read more. To read more books. The brilliant Brain Picker Maria Popova reads as many books a week as I have read all year. To seek out and find new semantic reading tools like Zite to help me discover more of what I will like and what I would skip. As Lord Alfred Tennyson captured in this pithy little line in Ulysses: “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.”

Thanks for reading everyone. If you are sober in the weekend, do go out and make an L board for yourself. And have a great 2012.Image

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Eight lessons marketing professionals can learn from Kolaveri

The digital world has so disrupted the business models of newspapers, radio, television, music and even Hollywood that the yin and yang of mass media and mass marketing are flying apart. We are in the midst of total collapse of the media infrastructure we have taken for granted for 400 years.

– Bob Garfield Advertising Age Columnist in The Chaos Scenario, 13 April 2005

Aye, have you heard this weird song. Kolaveri, Kolaveri? Is got close to a million views on YouTube. Is it Malu or what? What does Kolaveri mean?

– Digital Dude Aged 24, 17 November 2011

Screen grab from Youtube

Six years after Bob Garfield provoked the marketing and advertising industry with his seminal piece in Advertising Age, Digital Dude (quoted above) discovers that Kolaveri Di has gone viral on YouTube. Dude does not know Bob Garfield nor has he read The Chaos Scenario. But he is among the millions who have given Kolaveri another view, helping to further shoot the video on to the centre stage of India’s pop culture and unwittingly endorsing the premise of Bob’s book.
Now clients want agencies to do a Kolaveri like video for their brands. Yes we got two briefs in the last two days and are struggling to explain why we cannot do a Kolaveri. What we do have are some lessons from the said video and similar memes.

Lesson 1. You don’t make a Kolaveri. It happens. Amen. Here are, one, two stories from the guys at Jack in the Box, the digital agency behind the viral on how it happened.

Lesson 2. You can’t separate marketing and PR from the agency anymore. Being a movie based video Kolaveri has an advantage over traditional marketing content. Yet reading the agency’s POV on this, PR was strategically used to give the video the traction.  Starting now we need to create all kinds of synergies to get people’s attention. Marketing, PR, HR, sales, service working together, in tandem…

Lesson 3.  Speed is the new element in a marketing person’s arsenal. To read Dhanush’s interview post the success of the song and to believe that the song was written in some 6 minutes. Well that’s as much time it takes to find an empty conference room these days. Speed was on display when W+K decided to bring on the OldSpice Man on to Twitter and YouTube. 180+ videos created in two days. Wow!

Lesson 4. YouTube is the TV channel for urban Indian youth. Mahesh Murthy (look up his 20 new rules of marketing here) and Reem Syed are some of the prominent voices in India who believe how lopsided marketing budgets are with respect to digital media. The impact of Kolaveri Di should put an end to that discussion. In fact this Google Trends comparison between two recent hits, Airtel’s Har Friend Zaroori Hota Hai and Kolaveri shows you that without a dime spent on TV, Kolaveri has blown past an ad that was heavily promoted on all channels, online included. Even in places like Ludhiana and Chandigarh,  Kolaveri beat out the Airtel ad.

Lesson 5. In a low friction world,  we learnt a great idea will have imitators like in the case of Cadbury’s s Gorilla. In India we have struggled to get people to create interesting content that feeds off a rage. Kolaveri is showing us that good ideas will be copied and remixed in real time. What are we agencies and marketers doing to create memes that can be remixed?

Lesson 6. Hum-ability counts, not meaning. Cartoonist Hugh McLeod had something fundamental to say  in this cartoon. Most marketing messages are so overloaded that they lose any humanity whatsoever. The lyrics in Kolaveri are so nonlinear that they start a conversation and further its spread.  RIP Link Test?

Lesson 7. Ideas like these can spawn real time marketing opportunities. Pepsico’s Digital Marketing Head talks about how the best marketing in the future will need to grab real time opportunities that could come by. A viral the scale of Kolaveri could have spawned many opportunities. A line of Kolaveri Di Tshirts. A promo around the song. A smart entrepreneur could have started a Kolaveri Di FAQs page and made some money from placing Ads on the page. Missed opportunities.

Lesson 8. The long tail brings interesting content back into circulation. This one has nothing to do with Kolaveri. But another video that’s been doing the rounds recently, the  flash mob in Mumbai Central has been doing the rounds. The Youtube video has already notched up an impressive 200,000+ views in two days. On the back of this, an older, forgotten one from May this year is getting a second life, for free. The Internet never forgets, but no ad that’s shown on TV can ever have a second coming without the advertiser wanting to rerun it.

An Agency of Makers.

In a first for a non-technology company, Unilever brand AXE had called for a developers’ day in early October.  One that I believe has a strong message for agencies.

Digital is the way ahead. Yes!

While there’s nothing path breaking about this fact, I’d like to argue that agencies can participate in the digital revolution in ways we have never imagined. Not just by being partners of our clients as we have always been, but by making things for ourselves, and profiting from it.

Planner Griffin Farley is one of the smartest minds out there. He makes an interesting point in this presentation on Fringe Planning, and I borrow shamelessly (God bless the Internet).  Slides 16 and 17 are noteworthy.  “Ad Agencies have recruited some of the smartest creative people out there.” And 17, “the byproduct of agencies are ideas that don’t get sold, or are not appropriate for a particular client.”

I see the second point as particularly appropriate. With agencies thinking up more business ideas as part of the integrated marketing communications mix these days, than merely communication ideas as they did in the past. For example, this Cannes winner from Tesco is not so much a communication idea as much as a business changing idea. Or the recent announcement from Shoppers Stop of setting up a Facebook store is a business idea, and less a marketing one.

So how are agencies taking advantage of the rich stream of “by products” they create? Griffin has listed out a few in his deck.

Anomaly, an agency with offices out of New York and London discovered YouTube amateur Lauren Luke and helped her develop, manufacture and market her own range of cosmetics. This is not a one off from Anomaly. They have developed a few IPable ideas, including ShopText, a mobile based shopping and couponing and commerce service.

There are other agencies too who think alike. Among the better known ones, BBH has Zag, a brand inventions agency. Deutsch has Consigliere, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal and Partners  have KSBP Ventures. While independent traditional agencies have set up innovation shops, there are a new bunch of making agencies building things and creating a niche for themselves. Breakfast out of New York, Definition6 , the guys behind the Coke Happiness Machine, Deep Local, who built the NikeChalk bot, or London based agency, ustwo, who have a portfolio of client work and a bunch of independent products.

What connects these new agencies? Unlike traditional agencies that spend their energies creating communications ideas, the new ones are focusing on out and out innovation for their clients and for themselves. Thinking product ideas, which can be patented, to create intellectual property and build new revenue streams in the future.

A simple way for agencies to take advantage of “making” opportunities, we have to go beyond the campaign mentality. For example, with mobile apps, now accepted as a tool for marketing. (Most traditional agencies have an app or two to show off these days which means we have cracked the model of how to imagine and make them.) So instead of doing an app for, say, a diwali mela campaign, could we think long term? If we can understand the key reason for a person to buy a brand or use a service and then build something that fulfills an unmet need.

As this story in Fast Company points, can agencies think more like startups, and less like communication partners? Or as advertising planner Russell Davies goads us so eloquently in Wired UK, make things, not messaging platforms.

In a changed world, there are ways of making them happen. Thomas Freidman pointed us to some mega trends in his bestselling tome The World if Flat. For this story, the key ones from the book are outsourcing, rapid prototyping, workflow software and supply chaining.

So an idea, that comes up in a brainstorm, ideas that we agencies are so good at spotting, can be scaled up with help from partners who the agency has relationships with, and taken to market with the support of a client, or independently.

To do this we will need to add new skill sets though. Which is where agencies will have to have the startup mentality. We have rarely hired to build revenues in the future. But an agency with a headcount that runs into many hundreds can afford a small team of geeks, engineers and project managers for sure.

In a state of the union address early this year, Barack Obama told his country that their future lies in taking leadership of innovation. I believe the same should apply to the communication business that is seeing its fundamentals shifting with the arrival of the digital revolution.

DIY culture is a growing trend. This trend is spawning whole revolution, led by small groups of people who are using technology, easy connectivity, access to venture capital and microfinance.

Advertising as an industry that has a rich history of identifying and nurturing creativity. Unlike engineers, we are masters at helping find a way to make things that make an emotional connection with people. Could an agency create the next Angry Birds, Instagram, Klout or Hipstamatic asks this story. I believe we have the credentials. The inclination? Let’s wait to hear from the winners of the Axe developers’ day.

The Joy of Failure

In most agencies Digital is cool these days. And as a digital guy, you can walk around with this smug,  know-it-all expression. Augmented Reality? No problem! Shoskales? You should ask me! SEO? I know abbreviations!

Or you can expect to be branded a heretic and be ready to be foisted onto a stake for giving clients and agency colleagues the feeling that something complex can be done, without actually having done it before.

I must admit that I have been at the receiving end lately. Accused of being a complete loser who jumps onto new technology bandwagons (Hype Cycle, as Gartner puts it) because it’s out there waiting to be done (a campaign on Percolate anyone?). Or plunging smooth running client relationships into crisis by trying to do audacious things.

Frankly I’d rather die a trapeze artist trying to do one new stunt after another, rather be a Spanish goat herder stuck by lightning while he took a midafternoon siesta. Yes! More than ever…

Since the early seventies theorists have been postulating the emergence of the Attention Economy, where for brands and ideas, getting people’s attention is going to be the biggest problem. Traditional communication models like AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) are being threatened because of our reducing attention spans and the proliferation of devices.

While old theories are being laid to rest every day, ideas that once sparked and shone are biting the dust more often. This is not just true for traditional advertising ones, but for newfangled digital and nontraditional ones too. While Coke’s Happiness Machine version 1was a viral rage globally, attempts to recreate the magic have not been as spectacular. The original Old Spice Man Twitter response campaign got far more traction digitally than the recent shootout with Fabio.

But that’s not the point.

The point frankly is that we don’t know. We don’t know for sure what will work, and which ones won’t. And we have to believe that this to be the first principle of our business. Be prepared to throw away rule books, process documents, research methodologies and more in today’s over communicated world. Many ideas that fall in within our brand and communication comfort zones right now may not make any impact at all amidst all the noise around us.

Sure not every idea will be worth people’s attention. And that has always been the case. But to believe that tried and tested approaches will work again and again is to believe in the value of diminishing returns. I think we in agencies and at client offices have to build a culture of trying new things time and again. Create ideas that can creep into people’s attention spaces that may not necessarily fit within the boxes of advertising or marketing. So even if they are too busy to pay any attention, the sheer novelty of these ideas mean they get seen, heard and discussed.

Now there’s so much more motivation to step out and swim across to the unknown. The Cannes Lions Advertising Festival broke the rules this year renamed itself to the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Awarding ideas that refuse to be contained in neatly defined boxes and silos that fall in our traditional comfort zones.

What would you call the Bing J-Z Decoded campaign or Tesco’s tryst with stores in the subway? Or the exceptional work done by the German agency Kempertrautmann for Hamburg Philharmonic? Here even the conductor agreed that the idea was crazy, when she first heard it. How would you measure such ideas even before they are approved and executed? What frameworks would they fall in?

We may want to pause and reflect on this.

Are we asking enough questions about our ideas, when we complain that are 99% of all advertising campaigns don’t cut it creatively? Why are we satisfied with just 2%, .2% or .02% banner clickthru rates? I could go on…

While attention is scarce on one hand, we are spending more time to seek out things that really interest us. Surely some of this can be advertising. Additionally, in this age of wonderment, most of the magic is being created outside departments that may not be designated creative. Also, the landscape of communication is being disrupted even by little kids armed with a computer and an internet connection.  As organisations that are being looked at as places that produce new and breakthrough ideas, we need to step right back in and claim our position. Whatever it takes.

As author Kathryn Schultz celebrates so evocatively in this TED talk, On Being Wrong. “Our capacity to screwup, it is not some embarrassing defect in the human system, something we can eradicate or overcome. It’s totally fundamental to who we are.” So if you have 20 minutes to spare. And it is not totally wrong to spend some time watching TED in office, maybe worth jumping in and listening up. Steve Jobs urged the class of 2005 at Stanford to stay hungry, stay foolish. Maybe we should too.

Sleuthing through the recent Facebook shutdowns

There’s been fear and loathing in social media land recently. As some of India’s most visible Facebook fan communities started to go missing. It all began early this month when the Pizza Hut India page was shut down. The news was important enough to feature in mainstream media and on digital blogs. While the Pizza Hut page came back up, two other Indian properties, FCUK India and Cadbury Bournville, went down too. Both the pages are back up after the blip. Check out this interesting inflection of the FCUK India page on Wildfire Social Media Monitoring App.

So what’s happening in social media land? Is the promise of limitless, free consumer engagement is beginning to evaporate even before we have started? What are the future challenges that brands and social media managers will have to keep in mind to ensure that their carefully built properties do not disappear?

The simple answer. Adhere to Facebook terms of service. Live by the rule book, they are straightforward, and everything will be fine. No problem.

In reality things are a bit different. Most brands want to grow their fan pages exponentially, And Pizza Hut India has had some success as this report from December points out. A good promo can do wonders to your page and your confidence, terms of service or no terms of service.

These takedowns are widespread. Allfacebook reports that there has been a slew of app take downs around the world where one of Facebook engineer tried to explain “We’ve been getting a lot of user feedback recently, spiking significantly over the past week, on the amount of application spam people are seeing in their feeds and on their walls. We turned on a new enforcement system yesterday that took user feedback much more heavily into account.”  Apologies and a form on a disabled application appeal page continued in the engineers post.

Spam and blackhat stuff aside, what can legit brands and social media companies do to avoid seeing their efforts and nascent fan pages go down? Once again, play by the rules. There’s no escaping that. Don’t misuse the “like” button, don’t try to induce fans to comment, tag or post.

If you have been managing a Facebook community, you may have received mails from Facebook staff urging you to remove apps and promotions that violate Facebook’s terms. We have received a few and  have been proactive in working to ensure compliance.

We think the problem arises when you don’t respond.

The Facebook platform has been written to record every action that a person makes on a page. Dig around the code and even you will know who commented, who posted, who shared something on any page. So it is easy for Facebook to track admins and what they do, the promos and apps they post etc. And if they find an offending app or promotion on a page they write to the specific admin who posted it.  Now this could be the reason why some pages are being taken down and others narrowly missing the cut. The admin who posted the app or the violating promo has moved on and is still the page admin, or has not checked his Facebook designated mail in time. Our experience is that Facebook does warn offending admins and if they respond and take necessary action then the page stays on. Simple.

So going forward. Stay within the limits of what Facebook allows. Ensure that the admins you have on the page are people who are actively managing the page. And three, and this is a tricky one. If you are an admin look thru every one of your Facebook mails, yes, you get a lot many of them from your friends, fans and the community. Read through them, lest one of them happens to be a mail that warns you about an offending item and the future of your million fan social media community.

We need to save digital from the IT department

A few weeks ago we got a very strange request. Could you please make our IT guys the admins on our social media properties? The mail was innocuous in its tone. A simple request you could accede to you’d think. A little digging revealed what was coming. There were multiple names in the mail, and each one of them had to be made admins.

Our team promptly set about working on the request. Looking for the said individuals on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.  And when we could not find them, we wrote back asking for handles and URLs. Promptly the response came. What is a Facebook URL? Why do you need a Twitter handle to access an account? While yes in the case of Twitter, many people can use the same log in credentials, in the case of Facebook, you need to have an account, we replied.

We don’t want to be on Facebook, we just want backend access, our client pleaded.

I hope you are getting the drift. People who had never used Facebook or Twitter, never understood a platform like Linkedin now want to be choreographers of the space. Ah. Make that an effing Ah!

Can you please tell me what I should do with this button that has like written on it? I am getting emails from people I knew from long ago who want to be my friend now…

See I have nothing against IT guys. But for companies who still have policies like “all IT related services should be managed by the IT department” guys you need a relook.

Digital is not about IT, they are about people and social is not so much about media, but about behavior (I borrowed this from @metaxas). Users have never had to worry about the IT behind the digital platforms that are so part of our lives today. Which is why my Mom DMs me these days rather than call me. She has done a cost benefit analysis of the two platforms and figured it out.

If I could give IT guys some advice, learn up as much about people and behavior as you know about hardware and software. Play around on the platforms you want to manage and control. Lean to give up control rather than put locks and admins. You guys could be the most sought after people on this planet, or you could work for Mom.

100 Year Working Lives

Picked up verbatim from Russel Davies’ blog where he writes under 5thing. I’ve just written something about this for Wired. Don’t think I thought of it as concisely as ‘100 Year Career’ though. Lifetimes are being extended, retirement’s being pushed back. Many of us will have working lives of 100 years +. How do you prepare for that? Or even think about it? I started thinking about it when I was wondering whether to take a new job. With a working life that could easily last another 40 years, probably longer than any of the industries I currently know anything about, what should I be doing next? My answer – learning – more learning about people and organisations. Because they, at least aren’t going away. All those people thinking about jobs now, I’m tempted to say, do what you need to do now, because you’ve got plenty of time. The complete post is about other things aswell

What It Takes To Be A Social Media Agency?

We have been covering the thinking of Mullen’s Edward Boches quite often in this newsletter. And here are two posts that are actually one. On what it takes to be a social media agency. We think the simple answer is that you have to be three things. A traditional creative agency who understands brands and branding, a media agency who understands the media side of business, specially new media bits, and finally be a software company who is able to build small, but good looking applications that can work on the web, on phones and elsewhere. Edward (as corrected by the great man himself, see comments) however has a more specific list of 14. And it curiously starts with the more complex skills. Understanding and using professional listening tools: There is a new generation of companies like Radian6 who have built platforms for companies to hear and make sense of what consumers are saying about their brands and services. A social media agency will need to understand how this game is played. Presence Engineering. A bit jargony this one, is the ability to go into social media spaces like Facebook and Orkut and create ways to engage with people who are spending time here. Content creation. While agencies have been creating TV commercials and ads for over a century, there is a need to create new kinds of content that are not brand messages. Stuff that users will willingly access and pass around. New social agencies need to be bit PR companies as well. They need to have relationships with blogging community. This has proven tricky for many companies and will continue to stay this way. Employee Mobilisation: Help companies getting their own employees to believe in the things they do by creating employee engagement programs, and then let employees use belief to connect with people from the outside. Viral Mobilisation: understand the importance of building and nurturing memes. Help clients with crisis management, specially when the outbreak starts online and begins to spread. Building technology utilities and apps: for the web, the desktop and the phone. Having an understanding of search engine optimization. This is where the media planners come in to social media agencies. Knowing how search engines rank pages and finding ways to ensure that your pages come up tops when people search. Crowdsourcing: the whole point here is to engage with a group of creators and sustain their interest in the project. CPB recently did a crowdsourcing project that got into a bit of controversy. Web Development. Agencies, like it or not, will need to understand web development big time. Not just of the microsite kind, but deep engaging ones. Measurement and analytics, how to understand and engage with visitors online, who are the people coming, and why are they coming to our site. The ability to build alliances and partnerships. Here, Ed talks about the ability to work closely with partners in creating communication solutions mostly. Unlike the relationships agencies had in the past with production houses, there is a need to build long term alliances with companies and people who could almost be competing with the agency, at times. And of course the most important skill set that an agency already possesses. The need to go out and build experiences out there. Read the Edward Boches blog Creativity Unbound here

What’s Next In Marketing And Advertising (2009)

Paul Isakson follows up his seminal What’s Next in Marketing and Advertising & The Future of Marketing + Advertising

Creative Testing At Cannes Lions 2009

Millward Bown Global CEO Eileen Campbell and Millward Brown Optimor CEO, Joanna Seddon teamed up at Cannes this year to talk creative testing and how inputs from research can help improve the creative product. Worth 45 minutes of your time.

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