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Archive for the category “Writing”

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

Is Social Networking Building Internet’s Caste System?

Ah! To be an internet user in the 90s. When modern browsers introduced us to webpages and hyperlinks.  Click, click click and you were away, connecting random things. Girlie pictures, right click to download. Football scores I know the address. Email, done in minutes.

No pressure really. If you could log on, you could be online. No one knew who you were, and really no one cared.

How could the net just meander along like this, asked the Internet gods? Soon people will get bored. Let’s throw in some complexity, they said. And Google was born. Out of a paper that Larry Page wrote. With Page Rank, Google’s algorithm for ranking pages, we started to see changes in the way we consumed the web. We moved away from individual web pages and started visiting to the Google home page. Search for something and out came a bunch of results. Simple we thought, yet complex it was. Who decides which result should come up tops? Not Google surely. No.

Thus was born the origins of Internet’s caste system.

I have more heads of cattle then you have; if you are a villager living on the Serengeti plains of Africa. I rank higher up in Google search results than you do, if you’ve decided to make the Cyberspace your playground.

Thus was created a new generation of narcissists. Googling their names to find where they stood when compared to their peers and namesakes. I have done it myself secretly, I must admit.

What Google started didn’t end there. When platforms like Blogger, Typepad, WordPress and others gave anyone online the opportunity to create, it also started to create a pecking order of sorts. Arianna Huffington, Robert Scoble, Michael Arrington. India’s own Amit Agarwal, Rashmi Bansal, soon became the Brahmins of the web. Six figure speaking assignments, insider tips, first looks at new stuff, publishing contracts.

The social media curation business was in full flow, creating clear class systems with award shows, lists and more. Bloggies. AdAge’s ranking of top marketing bloggers. Indiblogger complied India’s own list. I saw your blog, chipped in an enthusiastic intern who dropped by my office. I have one too, he said, has an Indirank of 67. Crash! My world went down. With a score languishing in the 20s. Woe to ye writer for a blog few care to read.

It wouldn’t end there. Nike+, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and more. Some of us were just better at doing stuff and the world could know. I just ran 18 Kms a friend’s Nike+ status update mocked at me. The last I ran for exercise was 18 years ago.

NigaHiga has 4 million YouTube subscribers my son told me the other day. I looked up mine. Four. As if the zeroes really didn’t matter.

Facebook fans and friends, Twitter and Instagram follower lists – I wasn’t making a mark. Falling away in the social media leaderboard.

And then came the rating guys. Standard & Poor’s of the internet, as it were. Size does matter, they say, knowing my abysmal record so far, I wasn’t sure how I would measure up.

The big name around in this nascent business is Klout, as the name suggests measures your clout, online.  Klout, the standard of influence they claim, 80 million people have apparently compared themselves using the algorithm. Justin Bieber scores a 100 on 100. Unless you are a movie star or someone such, I urge you to stay away. With a score in the low 50s and my activity across various social networks I am classified a specialist. If it were like India’s multilayered caste system I would be a barber, probably. Nice hair! Oh go away now.

There are others out there waiting to divide us. Each one with a proprietary method. Peer Index, inviting you to understand your online social capital. One that groups you basis your activity, authority and your network.  There’s Twenty Feet described an ego tracking service. Carl Jung has met his match. The Times UK has another The Social List, a system set up to measure your social wealth. Could a bribe help, I wonder?

So why these class systems you may ask. We are seeing some answers already. Klout has introduced Klout Perks, a system to reward people basis their social influence. They worked with Facebook and Audi to deliver different experiences to people depending on their Klout scores. Stephen King recently gave away his new book Mile 81 free to select members of Klout.

Looks like I am falling short in the ranking game, with middling numbers across the board. Wish I could go back to the simpler days of the Internet. Or maybe I need to move on.

Gardening, anybody?   

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.

Rethinking Business For The 21st Century

Umair Haque provokes as usual, with a stream of ideas on how the world needs to look at business in the 21st century. In his smart growth manifesto he writes “Where dumb growth is unsustainable, unfair, and brittle, smart growth is sustainable, equitable, and resilient.” His four pillars of the smart economy, Outcomes, not income, where we don’t look at profit as the only benchmark of success, but at people and the quality of life, how much better or worse off they are. Connections not transactions. Where rather than volume of transactions, if we were to look at the quality of these transactions, and who some of them are more valuable than others. Smart growth, he says, seeks to amplify connection and community — because the goal isn’t just to trade, but to co-create and collaborate. People not product. Umair has always talked about people being at the centre of everything good. He takes this forward with this thought “Globalization driven by McJobs deskilling the world, versus globalization driven by entrepreneurship, venture economies, and radical innovation.” Creativity not productivity. Here he says that because creativity has been hard to measure, economists switched to measuring productivity, and got it all wrong. Smart growth focuses on economic creativity – because creativity is what lets us know that competition is creating new value, instead of just shifting old value around. Read more here. Also an older post from Russell Davies on why we need more ideas and less stuff.

Tribes

A quick little book from Seth Godin that goads just about anyone of us to take on the role of leading a group of people. We need you to lead us, says the slug under the title. For people who are wondering why they are stuck where they are, an opportunity to reflect and maybe re-jig their lives. Download a free audio version at Audible.

OUTLIERS

The new book from Malcolm Gladwell is here (Read highlights on the authors site.) It makes a case for genius. And how some people have a better chance at being a genius than others. Seth Godin, while agreeing with Gladwell’s basic theory of 10,000 hours has an interesting counterview.

Shopportunity

Katie Newlin helps consumers understand how the biggest retailers in the world use information about people who shop in their stores to sell them more.

Buyology

Martin Lindstrom
Author and Advertising Age editor Martin Lindstrom spent millions of dollars to peep into consumers brains on exactly why they buy. Why showing gory images on packs of cigarettes actually makes people smoke more. How some brands work in the same way as religion does. And how indirect advertising does really work. Read the book chapter by chapter online here.

How To Say Nothing In 500 Words

With the abysmal readership of this newsletter, most of you would agree with this story. How to say nothing in 500 words, is just like writing words on a digital screen and nothing more. Wonder how many of you would agree?

The Art Of Baseline

Nobody reads any more. How often have you heard this recently? Writing, however short or pithy, is an art that can’t be discounted even in today’s world. As Seth Godin writes, “As more and more advertisers wade online, competition will raise the bar for the steps you take to find the right people in the right frame of mind at the right moment. Some of that will require more cash, but mostly it’ll be about being smart and sometimes, funny.” Elsewhere the folks at Ad Slogans were looking for the best ad slogan ever. They compared some of the all time greats; Avis “We try harder”, Hamlet “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet”, Heinz “Beans means Heinz”. Read more at AdSlogans. And a lot more at A List Apart.

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