Monday, 22 August 2011

Chasing the ball

England seem to be quite good at cricket for a change. That's assuming India aren't very bad at it anyway and all the press coverage reminded me of a nice marketing cricket analogy.

Cricket fans sometimes talk about captains "chasing the ball". It means that when your team is fielding, you constantly rearrange your fielders to cover where the batsman hit it last time.

It's not a good strategy.

Captains who do it, tend to find that the ball will keep finding the spaces between their fielders as each gap you cover, opens up a new one for the batsman to exploit.

A good captain on the other hand, analyses the strengths of his bowlers and the strengths of the batsman, then forms a plan to force the batsman into playing the loose shot that he wants. He works the opening over a number of balls, knowing that his fielders are placed correctly for when his plan delivers. If it's not working after a few overs, fine, you might change the plan but you don't abandon it just because one ball found a gap.

It's very, very tempting to run your marketing by chasing the ball; seeing sales drop this week and running tactical press ads to try to recover, or piling your budget into a product that's selling well this week without understanding why it happened.

A good marketer is like a good cricket captain and analyses his and the competition's strengths, forms a plan and then gives it the chance to succeed. Statistical analysis of the past - a few years' past, not just a week - can give you insights that help to develop a good marketing strategy, in the same way that analysing a batsman's play over a season will give you a better chance of bowling him out than chasing where the previous shot went.

In marketing, just as in cricket, analysis is rewarded, while chasing the ball is ineffective, frustrating and ultimately, will lead to defeat.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

There's something special happening in the PS3 store

I like the occasional computer game. Not as a hardcore gamer - more as somebody who likes to drop in and be entertained now and again for an hour.

With that in mind, it's been a gripe for a while that there's very little originality in console gaming. Games are such huge investments now that they retail for £40+ and like Hollywood blockbusters, studios aren't willing to risk multi-million pound budgets on weird ideas.

In film, we have indie studios and I've been wondering where the indie game studios are? Where's the weirdness?

Just another great looking first person shooter or just another driving game seems a waste when you have an entire world to manipulate. It's a console - you can create any world you like, free even from the constraints of film - and with that freedom, doesn't creating a faithful reproduction of a Porsche seem a little, well, unimaginative?

There is an undercurrent of strange and occasionally brilliant flash-based games but they're far from well known. Try Today I Die as an example. Better with sound, so if you're at work - dig out some headphones.

The online Playstation 3 store is giving smaller developers a route to market, with products that typically cost £7-8 rather than £40 and something rather special has happened.

A series of games like Flower and Limbo provide experiences beyond frenetic arcade action that are geared to an emotional response. They're strange, surreal and feel more like art than what we're used to as games. They have a common theme with the flash games in that they usually don't come with instructions. They drop you into an unfamiliar world and then draw you further in, by making you work out their rules without help.

I think we could be looking at the creativity that will lift games to a new level and to a new audience. The most popular of these smaller low priced games will be re-made with bigger budgets in the same way that Hollywood has aped indie successes like The Blair Witch Project.

You'll also see some of their creativity and themes 'borrowed' into online marketing campaigns.

For now, I'm just enjoying the diversion. If you own a PS3 and you haven't tried Flower or Limbo yet, give them a go. Give them to somebody who doesn't 'do' gaming to play and see how they react. It's a world away from lapping the Nurburgring with slightly improved graphics in a slightly more realistic Porsche in yet another driving game.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The ad-man has a crisis

A day in the life of a British Prime Minister an ad-man during a crisis.

Woke up this morning to beautiful Italian sunshine. Lots of messages on the work mobile saying there's some kind of client crisis back home.

Breakfast. Croissants and coffee. Cheeky dollop of strawberry jam on the pastry.

More email messages from work. The back office staff are getting twitchy, saying several of our big clients have had a PR disaster and that they're snowed under with requests for information from the press.

Back to bed for an hour and then I think a walk in the Tuscan hills and we might hit a cafe for lunch. Nice bottle of white and a pasta something.

I'm starting to regret saying the entire board and all of the senior management could all go on holiday at the same time. It sounds like things back home are getting pretty hectic and the account execs are struggling to cover for them.

Lunch was good though. Had my picture taken with a pretty Italian waitress!

OK, I'm going to have to phone the office. Wife not pleased.

Christ, they're panicking back home. The campaign we're running has caused a huge PR disaster and most of our clients have had their offices smashed by chavs on the rampage. I'm sure the execs can cope though - they've got interns to help.

Organised a day trip to Rome. Should help get me back in the wife's good books after that waitress photo.

The police have been in touch. Large groups of youths are gathering to go and smash up our clients' head offices. They say our recent campaigns might be the cause.

Call Marketing Week. Tell them the ad campaigns won't change and I've got no plans to come home.

I'm going to have to fly home. Wife furious.

Sod it, if I'm having my holiday ruined then the rest of the board can jolly well come home too. Set up a board meeting for a few days' time. No sense in rushing.

George (our FD) has decided to come back too. In an unrelated crisis, apparently the agency might be bankrupt. If that's true, then to be honest I'm not sure he should have gone on holiday in the first place.

Open the emergency scenario plans and set up a meeting for tomorrow morning back home. 9.00am. Damned if I'll go in early - I'm supposed to be on holiday.

Head of our London office tells the press we should change our campaign in the light of all the violence. Floppy, blonde haired, attention seeking pillock. Never liked him anyway. I'll cut his budget when I get home, that'll teach him.

Quite a few clients are talking to the press, saying the whole board shouldn't all be on holiday at the same time, it's all our fault and they're seriously thinking about re-pitching their accounts. This could be a problem.

It'll be fine. Few handshakes, some free press inserts and a couple of good dinners (on the client's expense account, obviously) will smooth things over.

Late supper and a good bottle of wine. Feel better. At least advertising's not that important in the grand scheme of things. It's not like I'm running the country

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The looting brand index

Look out Millward Brown, I've got an idea. Here's the Wallpapering Fog 2011 Looter Brand Index. Which advertiser's branding has created the most looting intent in Britain's underclass yoof?

It's a work in progress and we're still working out how to update for 2012 without inciting a riot.

(With thanks to

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Quick conclusions from the riot coverage

I watched the riot coverage across a variety of outlets until too late last night. Here are a few thoughts...

  • The rioters didn't organise using Twitter, they used Blackberry Messenger. People watching used Twitter.

  • Did you hear that Daily Mail? BBM and Twitter are not the same thing.

  • During a developing story, Twitter > Sky News > BBC News

  • During a developing story, you're better off following interesting journalists on Twitter than reading the content of theirs that makes newspaper websites

  • If TV news channels haven't got helicopters up, they won't be showing any coverage that you haven't already seen

  • Somebody really needs to tell our news outlets about UStream

  • What happened to webcams? I swear there used to be more.

  • If it was truly Armageddon, somebody would still be posting marketing news to your Twitter feed.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Citizen Journalism

Our news outlets are all running around today, trying to source pictures and video of the bit of North London that was on fire and being looted last night.

If you've got a fuzzy shot of a burning bus, then I can understand mailing it to the beeb. If I had anything better than that though, I'd be on the phone to newspapers selling it - not giving them great content for free.

News outlets aren't charities and they want the pictures to sell papers. These are the terms and conditions for uploading to the BBC news website and frankly, I think they're taking the p*ss. You're lucky even to retain the copyright.

In contributing to BBC News you agree to grant us a royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to publish and otherwise use the material in any way that we want, and in any media worldwide. This may include the transmission of the material by our overseas partners; these are all reputable foreign news broadcasters who are prohibited from altering the material in any way or making it available to other UK broadcasters or to the print media. [See full Ts & Cs]

It's important to note, however, that you still own the copyright to everything you contribute to BBC News and that if your image and/or video is accepted, we will endeavour to publish your name alongside it on the BBC News website. Please note that due to operational reasons this accreditation will probably not be possible with video. The BBC cannot guarantee that all pictures and/or video will be used and we reserve the right to edit your comments.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The value of teaching

I've been learning to play the guitar for years, on and off. I picked it up at university because I had loads of free time and even as a student, there's a limit to how much of your day you can spend drunk, or asleep.

I learned the basics from a couple of beginner blues tuition books.

I learned a lot more by trying to work things out and by using tablature (written music for people who can't read music) from books and the web.

Over the first few years, I learned a lot and improved very quickly, but after about five years, I stopped improving and only played now and again because there was nothing new to learn.

Actually, re-phrase that; there was loads more to learn - I'm still average at best - but I didn't know how to get better and was bored with just learning more songs, without improving my technique. There are loads of resources on the web (of varying quality) for beginner and intermediate guitarists, but very little that can take you to the next level.

A month ago, I decided to pick up playing again and try a new tack. Getting lessons. Radical way to try to learn something, I know.

Today, I'm excited about playing again, practicing almost every night and have learned more over just the past few weeks of lessons than in the past few years of self-teaching via books and the web.

There's a similarity here with how we learn to do our jobs. With how we learn about anything really, but this is a marketing blog and needs a marketing angle. Marketing people are also very fond of the internet. Surely you can learn anything online?

We have lots of courses and resources for complete beginners, via organisations like the IPA and MRS. From a standing start, somebody new to marketing or market research can learn a lot by self-teaching, and using online resources.

That will keep a new graduate occupied for the first couple of years of their career. They'll enjoy themselves and progress quickly.

Then what?

Marketing courses for people who've been in the job for more than five years are, by and large, crap. Or they're non-existent.

Management technique and presentation courses are all the same. With a very few exceptions, seen one - seen them all. There's always a bit on personality profiles, maybe a memory game or two, if you're lucky a little bit of presentation structure and job done.

Advanced Excel training? The syllabuses I've seen are shocking and it's the same for most other software training. A one-day training course isn't teaching either.

Teaching works, so where are the quality teachers? They're certainly not offering evening classes.

You can find them on the web, blogging and speaking at TED and you can be inspired. That's like watching a skilled jazz guitarist on Youtube though, or downloading a piece of complex sheet music. Amazing to watch and makes you want to be able to play like that. Absolutely no use at all in helping you to get there.

The best teachers are mentors. Unlike in the world of musical tuition, in marketing their experience is largely not for sale. To a client it is; to an aspiring graduate, not so much. Maybe it's because marketing as a day job generally pays better than music. Rory Sutherland's not going to help you refine a pitch for £25 an hour on a Wednesday evening.

You can only improve by working with the people you find inspiring. Otherwise, you get bored after a few years and start changing jobs looking for something different, or leave marketing altogether.

The web is a valuable learning tool, but it will only get you 50% of the way and the web is much, much better at inspiration, than at teaching.

If you want to know who are the best people in the industry and what is the best work, the internet can show you. You can be the music fan who sends amazing new stuff to their mates, that they haven't heard before.

If you want to learn to be the best in the industry and to produce the best work, only a good mentor can show you. Seek them out, in real life, not online and make them teach you.