Monday, 15 August 2011

An Expensive Shave

NASA spent $25 billion to get to the moon.

So are a few minutes shaved from my train journey to our Manchester office worth £32bn?

That seems to be the rather high price to pay for the proposed High Speed 2 project that is now in its official consultation phase.

Rory Sutherland wrote about HS2 in his Spectator column recently. Firmly in the ‘no’ camp, he argued that time on a train is actually rather pleasant and a better use of public finances would be to focus the bit between his house and Euston.

The ‘for’ camp argue that we should see the £32bn as an investment that will deliver a fantastic return in terms of jobs, economic growth and progress.

Rory is of course correct that time on a train can be pleasant (especially in first and not on the last off-peak train before rush hour on a Friday). That time is also valuable and productive for business people who by the miracles of modern technology can make and receive calls, catch-up on emails and even think about stuff. Which causes somewhat of a hole in the economic growth argument you would think?

The story about economic connections and growth also falls down by the fact that it about a few minutes less on journeys between London and Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

The latest GDP figures show the Birmingham area ranked 14th in a European league table. London is in the top 2 and looking a little further south the Randstad area in the Netherlands along with the Cologne, Dusseldorf and Hamburg area in northern Germany are both in the top 5.

So wouldn’t it be better to pool our resources with our European cousins and figure out how to bring London closer to these areas?

That and get a decent taxi lane between Euston and Rory Sutherland’s house.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Everything you say or do ... present themselves as the Innocent of sofa brands.

I've never met them but after 12 minutes on their website I have an insatiable desire to hang out at their HQ and consume 'lashings of ginger ale'.

So attracted by the promise of a stylish sofa bargain and a free barbecue, we headed off yesterday morning to the warehouse sale.


We arrived at a rather functional warehouse near Heathrow which contained 30-40 sofas and around three times that number of confused AB1s.
The root of that confusion was the fact that 90% of those sofas on display had large 'sold' stickers on them.

The obvious next step was to question one of the staff to check what the 'process' was.
Unfortunately they were all busy. Customer confusion can be a time consuming business you see.

The obvious next step was to eves-drop.
And from this tactic we discovered there was a bit more stock and a 'master list' of sale items in the office.

So off we went to the office. Excited again.
But unfortunately the queue to investigate the list was put at 2 hours and news quickly filtered through that all the popular styles had gone.

The barbecue (what else to do) was perfectly pleasant if a little off brand (sainsbury's basics range and coke not ginger ale).
But the toilets were taped off presumably so those pesky customers couldn't monopolise them.

So all in all a pretty average brand experience.
A painful reminder that EVERYTHING you say or do effects your brand.
And an example of when it's not a good idea to let your customers see behind the brand (image) veneer.

Use your very good website next time.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

W+K To The Power 3

It’s a long time since TBWA first presented that idea to 3. Eight years in fact.

In that time the business has been on a hell of a rollercoaster. From initial excitement about the possibilities … to realization that the technology and handset manufacturers hadn’t yet got out of bed … to the wonderful world of Korean cowboys, singing cherry charts, Agent Provocateur parties and record contract sales … to the recent malaise of an opportunity seemingly lost.

As an ex-3er I still retain a certain emotional attachment to the brand so I was pleased to see W+K pick up the business. It feels like the brand needs to be in new, hopefully strong hands.

I don’t know why the business went from Glue. I can only assume the work didn’t work. Getting a brief to tell people you are working hard to improve your network is understandable but fundamentally flawed. People don’t need to hear it, they simply need to experience it.

So I hope W+K get to take the brand back to its true opportunity, away from an existence as a channel for handsets + cheap tariffs. It can play in a youthful, positive, uber-innovative space. Doing things differently, living on the edges of the mass-marketing mobile norms, understanding what the people who care, care about and building its image around that.

That of course is much more than just a communications task.

And that is something I hope everyone involved both realises and is up for.

Otherwise another agency will simply end up being judged as having failed to deliver the dream.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Friendly Little Coppers

Now there’s an ignition point….

It didn’t quite soften the blow of my first £1.35 a litre diesel experience but I thought my local Esso’s ‘Penny Pot’ was a nice touch when I filled up last week.

A simple idea – admittedly only relevant when not paying by card – where I can leave a few coppers to brighten my fellow man’s day or equally benefit from his or her thoughtfulness before me.

We rightly search for the big ideas and platforms we believe can transform and propel brands forward but it is sometimes worth remembering – especially in a category like fuels - that the little things can also have a positive effect.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Behaviour and Context

As advertising has changed, so have the roles of strategists and planners.

We must go ever deeper in pursuit of human understanding, past traditional approaches to customer research and segmentation, beyond understandings of demographics, lifestyles and attitudes. We have to understand why individuals and groups behave as they do in different circumstances and in different contexts. To gather real understanding and insight that can fuel ideas to truly ignite our clients’ businesses.

Luckily there are tools, frameworks and research which allow us to do just that. Some of them much in vogue at the moment.

Behavioural Economics for example, that tells us why social, cognitive and emotional factors mean people don’t behave as rational Economic models suggest they should.

Whilst, Identity Economics explains why people – facing the same economic circumstances – make different choices based on their own identities and the norms they encounter in the contexts of their social, family and working lives.

Academic research in both areas throws up fascinating potential for marketers.

Take the example of consumers in the US and Italy who were asked to either scale up from a plain pizza base by adding toppings or scale down from a fully loaded pizza by removing toppings. In each country consumers ended up with more toppings and a more expensive pizza in the scale down scenario than in the scale up scenario. A result explained through the behavioural principle of ‘loss aversion’.

Or take the experiment that showed consumers who paid a discounted price for an energy drink positioned as increasing mental agility, derived less actual benefit from drinking it (measured in ability to solve puzzles) than consumers who purchased and consumed the exact same product but paid its regular price. Thus showing how the actual efficacy of products – not just the way they make us feel - can be changed by marketing actions such as discounting.

Just a little lateral thinking tells you that such behavioural insights have a plethora of exciting and profitable applications across sectors. From the car industry to retail, software and beyond.

And how, by understanding the role of behaviours and contexts more deeply, it becomes easier to identify where marketing and marketing communications can play a role, and have the biggest impact in today's world.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Behavioural Guilt

As I travel back from Paris on the Eurostar I find myself in reflective mood.
I have an American Express Red card. It’s a great product for a great cause. Trouble is I have yet to use it.

The problem is I have this fantastic Virgin Atlantic black card too. I spend £1, I get two Flying Club miles in return = my miles balance rockets = I get upgrades into Upper Class once a year.
You see my problem? It seems my good old Reflective System wants me to be charitable but my Automatic System (or own self interest) stops me doing it in the moment of payment. And the issue is now compounded as I have not set up a direct debit on the Red card and have forgotten my PIN. Thus making using it in the future even more unlikely as I have added a whole other hassle factor into the mix.

I suspect I am not alone in exhibiting such behaviour, which got me wondering how the Red proposition could be adapted to counter the problem and generate more revenue for the charity.

Personally, I think that when I signed up for the Red card I would have agreed to pay a small monthly ‘fee’ - maybe £2 a month, maybe £5 a month - designed to cover the costs associated with the card whilst guaranteeing a donation income for Red even if I didn’t spend on it. I wasn’t really buying into a credit card at the time so that feels eminently plausible. Hell, I might even have agreed to a ‘Save More Tomorrow’ type mechanic where the ‘fee’ could increase slightly year on year.

I also think that would have acted as a nice little ‘nudge’ to make me more likely to use the card today. The direct debit would have been set-up and a barrier removed.

But as it stands I am not spending on the card and despite the best intentions I am sure my holding the card is costing someone, somewhere some money. So what to do? Well, as I am now through the channel tunnel perhaps I should stop this self-reflection and switch back to a good old Anglo-Saxon mindset for starters. And when I get to St. Pancras I could always just bloody spend on it! Now what was that PIN again .....

Thursday, 30 September 2010

A New Agency Model

As I posted a few weeks ago, we’ve been working on a piece of research (to lead into a book) investigating the views of top marketers on the make up of the ideal agency of the future.

The views and opinions we have now gathered been really interesting and we’re taking many of them onboard as we evolve and adapt as an agency network. And so it was good to hear Daryl Fielding, VP of Marketing at Kraft Foods in Europe speaking on the same subject at the recent Marketing Week Annual event.

From our research and the insights Daryl shared, it is clear that as we all strive towards great ideas the collective dynamics of channel proliferation, digital consumption, globalisation, recession and etc etc etc throw up a host of challenges that clients and agency types are working through today.

To name just a few that come up:
  • Is there a lead agency? A good question to start with and if so what is its expertise, experience and remit? And if not, then who is best placed to manage the ‘integration’ process and curates ideas?
  • How many people and what kind of people should be given the responsibility for driving out great ideas? We all know it doesn’t work when there are twenty people in the room but if small teams are best how can that be made to work across agencies?
  • Is the ‘big idea’ still, too often, born of an old advertising model? Daryl spoke about ‘supercharged TV ideas’ (read Gorilla or Old Spice) versus ideas where advertising becomes the servant of the idea (read Spots and Stripes).
  • And fundamentally, do current agency engagement (commercial) models foster the right approach and the best ideas?
So whilst the end goal for most of us remains the same - namely great ideas that create the desired human behaviours and feelings - the way clients and agency partners will get there continues to evolve.