Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The next Walkman (or not)

Sometimes, you look at a bit of ultra modern technology and can already see people in ten years' time laughing at it. My old Creative Zen MP3 player was a bit like that. Lovely bit of kit to listen to but a house brick even when it came out, it became embarassing fairly rapidly.

Remember the original Walkman? OK, that one's a bit of a design icon, but 80s mobile phones?

Here's my top five of 'things you think are cool, which the next generation are already laughing it.'

1. The iPod nano
See also any other ridiculously small gadget / MP3 player. We'll laugh that we thought they were small and we'll laugh that you actually had a separate gadget especially for music.

2. Keyless cars
You don't have to put a key in the dash, but you've got to have it in your pocket, so you've still got to remember to carry the thing. Seriously, if your car doesn't just recognise you, unlock the door, move the seat to your setting and cue up a custom playlist on the stereo, what's the point?

3. Facebook (no list of this type would be complete without it)
Crap at photos, crap at video, good at playing scrabble. Why did we spend so much time with this again? I keep banging on that Facebook's going to have a serious problem soon. When somebody connects people as effectively but gives them a better platform to do things (or connects different platforms) it's all over.

4. Digital Radio
UK radio will be digital only by 2015. Except it won't.
By 2015, we'll either be at or very close to a scenario where radio can be streamed easily via next (next) gen 3G mobile or wireless. When that happens, what's the point in digital radio?

Spotify is already there, the technology works.

5. Blu-Ray
Already dying.
Remember when movies came on disks and you had a whole shelf full? Hilarious!
Compared to a download to whatever is plugged into your TV in a few years' time, Blu-ray is fragile, cumbersome and expensive.

Netbooks belong on this list too, but it's a top 5. Got any more?

Monday, 29 June 2009

Good old Grauniad

I know Iran's been misbehaving recently, but surely most journalists aren't in jail there? Who's been writing my morning paper?

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The original data visualisation

I'm sure that, once upon a time, a caveman painted exactly the number of animals he'd hunted that day on his cave wall, so this isn't really the original data visualisation.

It's a good indication of where our current obsession with data visualisation is going though. Posters. On the walls of mostly stoned students.

The Mandelbrot set may have uses, but the visualisation of it doesn't, unless you need something to stare at while you contemplate whether your munchies are enough motivation to get up and go to the fridge.

Still excited about zoomable, rotateable 3D air traffic control?

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Some things don't polish

An email to Paramount from Michael Bay, director of the new Transformers film, has leaked out. Apart from being a grammatical car crash, it's interesting because he's complaining about a lack of marketing hype around his new film.

Good. This means somebody over at Paramount is doing their job properly.

One thing shines through from marketing statistics everywhere. You can't make a lot of people buy a bad product by spending more on marketing.

It sounds obvious, but when you've invested a lot of money in developing a product and it's turned out to be a dog, the temptation to spend another fortune trying to persuade people that it's not, is just too strong. Good money after bad. It doesn't work. Ever.

I'm assuming the pre-release survey results for Transformers 2 - Revenge of the Fallen were as bad as the reviews coming out now. Probably worse if you think they've re-cut it a bit to try to mend some of the least popular bits. Paramount marketing are applying some good, common sense and avoiding wasting money. Anyone would think we're in a recession.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

There's no such thing as Brand and Direct

In the quest to better explain how advertising works, marketers have invented an artificial distinction between advertising that is 'Brand' and advertising that is 'Direct'. It was useful for a while, but like an overused metaphor*, is starting to make things more difficult to understand than they need to be.

Go to jail, go directly to jail...

The always excellent Ad Contrarian has a quote on his homepage, pointing to where the problem starts.

"All ad campaigns are branding campaigns. Whether you intend it to be a branding campaign is irrelevant. It will create an impression of your brand regardless of your intent."

You can't run a 'Direct ad' in isolation. Give people a phone number using a low production value 10" spot in daytime and it might well generate low cost responses but it also generates a brand impression. That you're a bit cheap.

I've come across good few different blurred distinctions of Brand and Direct that make life even more complicated.

  • We can measure direct, but not brand, so brand advertising is everything we can't measure

  • Direct sells product but brand drives awareness and consideration

  • Direct means cheap airtime

  • Brand means expensive, peak airtime (but using the same daytime creative, obviously...)

  • Direct means black and white press. Colour press is 'brand' because it costs more but doesn't seem to generate any extra response

  • Our ad is a 'Direct ad', because it's got a phone number on it

  • Our ad is not a 'Direct ad' even though it's got a phone number on it

There's only one useful definition of direct advertising and it's not related to branding. Direct advertising can be measured with a response rate - to a phone number, to a website, via coupons returned, whatever.... Crucially, this has got absolutely nothing to do with what effect the ad is supposed to have on consumers; it's a technical distinction about how we track response that has unhelpfully been blown up into some kind of model of consumer behaviour.

If your campaign will work harder with a web address in it, then put one in it. This doesn't fundamentally change the way the campaign works, it just makes it easier for people to find you.

An ad that is expensive doesn't suddenly start doing a miraculous unmeasurable 'brand' job just because it cost more. Peak time is just like daytime, only with different people watching the TV.

Of course there are benefits in consistency and there are benefits in high production values and these things are hard to measure, but they're just as true in your 'Direct' ads as they are anywhere else.

* Overused metaphor as a metaphor... I'm quite proud of that.

Why your campaign doesn't work

A recent conversation with a planner (who shall remain anonymous.)

"We'll run TV when we've got something to say and fill in the gaps with outdoor."

Don't you dare complain when an analyst tells you that your outdoor campaign didn't have any effect on sales...

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Harangued by the government

Well not actually by the government, more like by public bodies. There's a creeping adoption of systems that weren't designed for advertising being used to continuously broadcast messages.

You can't catch a train without being told the platform might be slippery because it's raining - so don't run, not to leave cases unattended (or the security services might blow them up,) not to leave children unattended (presumably the security services won't blow them up) and that "closed circuit television cameras are in operation at this station."

The tannoy system was put in to let people know that the 6.30 from Waterloo is late again and they might as well walk home, but it's being used to broadcast constant messages aimed at behaviour modification.

The same is true of Motorway dot matrix screens, that are supposed to be there to warn you of problems ahead. They're not needed most of the time though, so why not harangue drivers about drinking, drugs and the dangers of towing a trailer?

Outdoor owners can't advertise next to motorways because the ads would be a distraction - although that doesn't stop enterprising farmers parking branded trailers in their fields - so how are these messages from the Highways Agency acceptable?

We need guidance right across public service bodies that broadcast systems put in place to communicate essential information are for just that. Not a free, unregulated, advertising channel with which to shout at the UK population.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Designing ads by committee

I saw the new Santander TV spot last night and to be frank, it's a bit of a mess. It's definitely got the scent of an advert that will spark a row in a few months when somebody asks what it was designed to achieve. Raise awareness? Of what - Abbey or Santander? Shift current accounts? For who - Abbey or Alliance and Leicester? If it's supposed to do all of that then it's going to have to work really hard in fifty seconds.

There are so many things going on, it's hard to know what you're being shown.

There's Lewis Hamilton. Never mind that he's just been hauled over the coals in F1 for trying to cheat, he's looking suave, clean shaven and covered in Vodafone logos in his race overalls. In fact the Vodafone logo appears in the ad almost as much as Santander's does.

A voiceover tells us about Santander while he's racing round a Scalextric track, which supports the 'together we're stronger' theme, presumably because several people help him assemble it. Then the voiceover says there are great interest rates available at Abbey. Oh and also at Alliance and Leicester. Anybody else confused?

At best, this one's going to be remembered as "that Vodafone ad where Lewis Hamilton races a Scalextric car."

I normally try to stay away from commenting on creative, in the same way that I'd expect a creative not to question the validity of our analytics, but I really can't see how this concoction of different messages is supposed to work.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Football is a loss leader

Setanta are in trouble. The Times had them yesterday morning 'on the verge of collapse'.

There's a very simple reason why. Setanta's business model is founded on sports attracting lots of viewers who want to watch those sports at £10.99 a month.

Adding the Sky Sports Pack to your Sky subscription is £18.00 a month and Sky don't just sell you a Sports pack. They sell you movies and entertainment shows and telephone and broadband too.

Spot what Setanta did wrong? They're cheaper than Sky for sport and not cross selling you anything, but are playing in a market where Sky sets the starting price of football rights. Even with EU regulation to stop Sky bidding for everything, it's a horribly flawed business model.

Remember how we used to have milkmen before supermarkets took over and priced them out? Premiership football is a loss leader for Sky - always has been - and anybody who tries to compete with Sky on the basis of selling football for its own sake, doesnt stand a chance.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Turn it upside down

It's amazing how much difference it can make to a statistic to turn it backwards.
90% of trains in the UK are now running on time. This is a Good Thing and record breaking.

Turn it backwards though and Network Rail are delighted with a siuation where 1 in 10 trains is late. Still impressed?

I've been thinking the same about the Telegraph's circulation as they turn the screw on MPs and reveal the bathplugs, moat cleanings and tennis court repairs that have been claimed on expenses. The Telegraph is up almost 19,000 copies per day.

That's 2.3%. Considering this is a huge exclusive, my immediate reaction is: Really? Is that it? I'm almost certain that if I told the Telegraph that several million pounds' worth of TV advertising 'only' increased their circulation by 2% during the burst, they'd be pretty disappointed. And this exclusive's given them a lot more exposure than a few Coronation Street TV spots.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

It's good...

The web's verdict on Microsoft's new search engine beta is in.

Bing, it's good, But It's Not Google.

Seriously, did they not see that coming?

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

We're not crap and you're wrong

This one comes under the heading 'people who should learn a little from marketing'.

If you did some research and discovered that people were saying your product was unreliable and broke down all the time, what would you do?

A. Find out what's wrong with the product, start fixing it and then maybe run a campaign to say you've fixed it

B. Tell the consumers that they're wrong and there's nothing wrong with the product

If you answered B, there might be a job for you in the Conservative Party*

A YouGov survey reporting that 46% of voters think politicians are personally corrupt has been reported on conservativehome under the title '46% of voters are wrong'. The arrogance is astounding.

* or maybe at Microsoft.