Monday, 28 September 2009

Unethical marketing

Some time ago I asked, "Are there any brands you'd refuse to work on, even if it meant losing your job?"

For me, cigarettes? Sure, no problem. If people don't know the dangers by now then more fool them. Alcohol? Gladly - and pass the free samples. Baby milk to third world countries? Maybe not...

ID cards? Absolutely no way.

The Home Office is about to spend £500,000 on a campaign in support of ID cards. Five hundred grand on a project that the Tories have committed to canning after they wipe the floor with Labour next year. What a waste. I'm not a Conservative, but I'm going to stay up late and enjoy election night this time around. Cheerio Jacqui.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Could it be? Is it? Finally?

An electronic daybook?

Please say it is. And if Microsoft have b*ggered it up then please let somebody else nick the idea and make it work properly.

We were promised a paperless office a very long time ago and I've been waiting for somebody to do this for ages...

My reading list

Wallpapering Fog has been running since last December and beginning to write it got me reading a lot of other marketing(ish) blogs. They've been a tremendous resource, so here are the best ten so far...
Let's start off with a plug for my colleagues. Interesting stuff and lots of contributors, so it's pretty active. Not the place if you're looking for things that others haven't found yet but it's an eclectic mix and worth a read.
Some of the posts put a bit too much faith in New / Social Media for me, but the best article of the month competition is tremendous for finding interesting new writing.

Great ideas for telling stories.
Beautiful, simple, elegant.
A must read for anybody who's even a little involved with data presentation.
Fairly new and this one's less of a regular read, but when I do drop in it tends to be to read a few articles. Putting some clarity on the public reporting of statistics.
Lots of rubbish. Plus Rory Sutherland, so it gets on the list.
Because I'm a geek and it's got a great title. It's useful too.
Advertising seen through the eyes of Grumpy Old Men.
Please don't stop writing!!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Datamonkey tech support

If you're any kind of datamonkey, you get asked to fix everything computer related when it breaks. Yesterday my boss aked me why her computer typed two of every letter whenever she pressed a key. I have no idea, but I'm thinking it's not a design feature... reboot time.

This, from XKCD, is brilliant.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Your agency is too big

And so is mine, but what size is optimal for a media agency? Planning and buying agencies, because that's what I know, but I'd be fascinated to know whether people think this holds in more creative fields too.

Early on in The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell descibes a phenomenon that seems to point to the optimal size for a company being about 150. He goes on to say that the American company Gore-Tex, contrary to usual manufacturing practice, don't try to build enormous factories to get economies of scale, they build units designed for 150 people with 150 spaces in the car park. When they run out of spaces and people are parking on the grass, they open a new factory. Up to 2009, Gore Associates has held a position in Fortune Magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" for 12 consecutive years.

Gladwell is talking about Dunbar's Number. A well known theory from anthropology, that - based on brain size - sets the maximum number of stable social relationships that a person can maintain at something just under 150.

Marketing is about ideas and ideas shared. It's a social undertaking and we don't work on a production line. I'll do my job better if I understand how a media buyer does theirs and a planner will be a better planner if they understand a bit of what analysts do.

You can gain this knowledge formally, through training (and then forget it) or you can talk to people regularly in the course of your work. Then Dunbar's number becomes a serious obstacle to effectively running a big agency. Based on personal experience, when you go beyond 150 people, we don't fold back to knowing 150 and just miss a few strange faces in the agency. When you hit, say 300, people fold back onto their own departments and only really know 30 colleagues. Particularly an issue for new joiners, whose colleagues are all drawn from the same department.

It's because you cross paths with a lot of people, but with each person quite infrequently outside of your immediate circle and so communication falls apart. So does social interaction.

Add in staff turnover and the problem suddenly gets a lot worse. Lets play nicely and say annual agency staff turnover is about 25%. If you meet somebody new, that means there's only a 56% chance that you'll both still be here next year.

Round it down for a soundbite and it means that if you randomly meet somebody new in your agency tomorrow, there's only an evens chance that you'll still be working with them next year. Many of the working relationships that do get formed are quickly broken.

I'd love to see somebody take the Gore-Tex example and apply it in the agency world. Keep the buying power of a big group but never put more than 100 - 150 people in the same building working together. That doesn't mean divorce planning and buying, with a building for each. It means each building runs a certain number of clients and if you get more clients, you open a new office. WPP's GroupM did the pooled buying power bit, but the agencies under its umbrella are still huge.

The are obviously disadvantages - the loss of larger specialist units being one - but I'd be willing to bet that the benefits in shared ideas, shared knowledge and happier, more motivated people would outweigh the costs.

Monday, 14 September 2009

No Mr. Bond, I expect you to buy.

I'm back! And I've been thinking. Never a good idea, but it's what happens on holiday when you leave your Blackberry at home (I make a point of leaving my Blackberry at home.)

I was reading Risk on the plane to Slovenia. It's good. There's a section on how Advertising influences people and - as so often - the outsider's view of our industry is one of machiavellian psychological techniques influencing an unsuspecting population.

Anyone who's worked in an agency for a month knows it's not like that. We're not that clever and we haven't got the time to be machiavellian. You need serious thinking time to become an effective Bond villain (bet they have really long holidays.) Most of the time, we're just happy to hit deadlines.

And so to the thinking. Why aren't we using the latest sophisticated psychological techniques in our efforts to sell ever more things? Marketing postgrads learn about them and then leave them at the door when they start work in an agency (there are two sat next to me right now testifying that this is true.) Psychological manipulation works when it's used, so why isn't marketing the domain of the psychologist? With those who don't understand and apply the lastest research left by the wayside?

To understand, we can go back to basic economics. Not supply and demand, or price - more basic than that. What are peoples' incentives? This is what Freakonomics does (repeatedly) to solve what look like complex problems. Why would schoolteachers cheat? How come most drug dealers are poor?

Why aren't most marketing campaigns cleverer?

It's because we don't really know how effective they are. Not often anyway. There's no objective measure of whether your most recent campaign was any good at selling product. Research can tell you if people liked it and econometrics can average the effectiveness of lots of campaigns. Nobody can tell you definitively whether this latest campaign is more effective than the last one unless it's absolutely brilliant.

So for marketing agencies, what's the incentive? The goal is to win business and they can't do it by proving they've made an effective ad. They win pitches by making ads that marketing directors like. And by convincing marketing directors that they've made an ad that will work.

Marketing directors aren't psychologists either, usually, and the ads they like may or may not be effective.

So we end up with agencies full of salesmen, trying to persuade marketing directors that the ads they've made will work. And these select few marketing directors aren't incentivised to buy an ad that will actually be effective either - because it can't be measured. They need an ad that will impress the CEO and he's definitely not up to the minute on the latest psychological research.

Back in the working world after a couple of weeks out and I'm thinking that we're probably less evil than the non-marketing world suspects. And we're much worse at doing what we actually set out to do...