Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Fighting with Algorithms

LUSH UK announced last week (on social media, of all places - Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) that they would be stepping back from social media. The reason? Social media is making direct conversation with community and customers more difficult: We are tired of fighting with algorithms, and we do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed. If you want to talk to LUSH UK, from now on, you can do it through live chat on their website, email (remember those?) or by - shock horror - picking up the phone.

There is a sense of disillusionment with the internet in general these days, particularly in terms of authenticity and trust. Should people really trust in the stars? This article illustrates the prevalence of fake ratings (I am reluctant to call them reviews) which isn't just an issue for cheap electronics: business books are No. 3 in the "highest % of fake reviews Top 10". Presumably because the people who write and market them also know how to manipulate the system, and have the cash to do so.

Are we really heading for The Inversion, where the internet becomes more bot than human, not only numerically, but perceptually, too?

With an author named Max Read, this article has really made me wonder.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Cheers to Purpose!

Like Brexit, the debate on the subject of Purpose seems to be on an ever-loudening crescendo. Sticking the word "Purpose" into the headline of an article that's about something completely different is guaranteed clickbait for the marketing community, in the way that "digital" was a decade ago.

And, like Brexit, both sides - as this is what it has become - are capable of persuasive argument and rhetoric.

My own view is that, in many of these articles, the language is wrong. The use of the words "higher" and "beyond" and "above" suggests a judgement that purpose is noble and profit is dirty.
Whereas surely they should work symbiotically?

A brand does something positive for the individual user. This can be practical, cognitive, sensory, emotional, or some combination. Some used to call this the benefit.

And that brand - or business - does something positive on the collective level - for the family, community, society or the world. For many brands and companies, this was always so, but maybe not vocalised. Changes in the world, in society, and in technology mean that this collective positive contribution - purpose, if you like - is becoming an imperative, rather than a nice to have.

It doesn't have to be about the UN sustainable goals. It doesn't have to be a "cause." It doesn't even have to be totally exclusive to your brand or company, as long as you do it in your own distinct way. But I believe it does have to relate back to the product or service your brand offers, and what it does for the individual.

A good example, for me, is what the brand Carling have done in the UK. 3 pubs a day there close their doors for good, and with the high level of Beer Duty in the UK, that will continue or worsen.  A movement has started via Britain's Beer Alliance to celebrate the positive role that Britain's pubs play in individual lives and communities: Long Live the Local

As part of the movement, Carling have produced a music video with the band Slaves, who started in pubs, which looks at the role pubs - and beer - play in music and creativity as well as community. It's not high and mighty, yet reflects brand belief and values, moving from the individual to the community.

Mine's a pint, thanks.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Only Marmite can do this

Probably the only good thing about the whole Brexit circus is the creativity it has unleashed from comedians around the globe. I have advised friends here in Germany that the best way to understand Brexit is to look at the jokes, not the news.

I'm not a fan of brands hi-jacking current affairs stories, mainly because the attempts are often done in haste, aren't funny and seem opportunistic.

But for Marmite, I'll make an exception. This ad couldn't be more on-brand if it tried.

Like Brexit, Marmite is peculiarly British, not understood by foreigners and extraordinarily divisive.

And it gets my vote, every time.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

AI: Master, Servant or Something Else Altogether?

The use of AI in the entertainment industry has been the subject of a number of posts here - there's Creative Direction by Numbers  and Why advertising may be the last refuge for creativity - and if you put my entire blog through your super-advanced AI platform, you'll doubtless find many more.

I was talking with a friend about the publishing industry recently - and how new novels seem to be identikit these days - from the reviews ("heartbreakingly sad yet life-affirming") through to the interchangeable cover designs. Many new novels seem throwaway and forgettable - with a superficiality and lack of edge that suggests they are the literary equivalent of the selfie.

Films seem to have gone this way a long time ago, and this week, I read an interview with the CEO of where, yet again, I got the impression that entertainment is increasingly data-driven, and not necessarily in a good way. The company "have successfully developed a quantitative model of how various narrative structures drive performance for movies, trailers and marketing campaigns." And here, I'm assuming "performance" means pure commercial performance, not awards or reputation won, or whether the film will go into the annals of history as a classic.

Here again, if you look at the entertainment example given on the website, the analysis is all about "what were" and "what have been" - that is, the old rearview mirror method of predicting the future based on the past. A self-perpetuating system.

No creative person needs evidence derived from AI to understand that what people find interesting is a balance between "known" and "novelty" - nor can AI really help you to get this balance right for any particular individual. It's part intuition, part good judgement plus a large sprinkling of luck.

In contrast, another AI agency,, presents a different philosophy. Less concerned with Hollywood (although I am sure Hollywood could benefit from this approach) and more with brands, this agency makes it clear that expertise in AI and expertise in people work hand-in-hand. The blog post Why we should embrace bias gives another perspective to the one that suggests bias is a negative in research that AI can help eliminate. It's well worth reading, with some points dear to my heart - "No objective truth", "Data is not reality" and "People make decisions, not data". I particularly like the quote from Gary Smith )"The AI Delusion"):

While computers are very good at discovering patterns in data, they are useless in judging how best to apply them in the real world because they lack human wisdom and common sense.

AI is best used to accelerate and augment human intelligence, not substitute for it.

I'm jolly excited by AI - in the way that I'm far more excited by a springboard than a straitjacket.

Friday, 29 March 2019

More than a destination

This time last week, I was whizzing down the slopes of the sunny Dolomites, enjoying a swig or two of Lagrein, munching my way through a Speckplatte and generally admiring the marvellous efficiency of the ski lifts.

I have blogged before about destination marketing, but the South Tyrol, and the way it is marketed, is far more than a destination. The remit of the marketing stretches beyond tourism to agriculture, food and wine and now natural products, for example, in the health and beauty category.

At the heart of it is the umbrella brand created for this unique region, which was originally created and launched in 2005, and has evolved further since. The idea behind it all, or the essence of South Tyrol, if you like, is about "symbiosis of contrasts." Now, that might sound rather intellectual-bullsh*tty (and I am translating from German and Italian here) but it makes a lot of sense. In South Tyrol, Alpine meets Mediterranean, spontaneity co-exists with reliability and there's the best of both nature and culture. It shouldn't work, but somehow it does.

The logo is based on a real Dolomites panorama, and the colours are chosen to reflect the contrasts and variety. It's used from a quality sticker for apples through to livery for trains:

I even saw a ski-lift or two sporting these colours!

Normally, a dual-language brand expression could be a challenge. But, in another example of "symbiosis of contrasts", the use of both Italian and German adds richness rather than complexity.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Busy doing nothing

The two most over-used words in emails have to be "sorry" and "busy". Here's a typical example from an email I received the other day:

I hope you  are well. sorry for the delay in getting back to you we are extremly busy at the moment. (sic)

On the face of it - OK. I suppose an apology of sorts and an answer are somewhat better than the wall of silence I've been experiencing lately. When exactly did "no response" become the new "no", anyway?

But let me scratch below the surface of those copy-and-pasted words. And all I can see is a lack of respect. You assume you and your colleagues en masse have got far, far more on your plates than I could possibly ever dream of, silly me, and that throwing in a quick "sorry" will make it all OK. You can't even be bothered to check your spelling or punctuation.

Things are frantic
I'm rushed off my feet.
We're inundated.
I just can't spare the time.

What the heck are all these people doing with their time? Everyone has exactly the same amount of seconds, minutes and hours as the next person.

My suspicion is that they are composing this sort of gobbledegook:

Just a quick reminder - we'd love to know more about the experience you recently had with us during your payment experience.

I am sorely tempted to ask them about their "feelings" during the questionnaire-composing experience. This was all about paying a bill (a necessary evil that takes a few seconds) for goodness' sakes, not a round-the-world cruise!

I read an excellent blog post by Richard Huntington yesterday, about deep thought vs. all this headless chicken-style busyness, presumably prompted by the requirement to be "agile."It's about "getting to the bottom of things rather than staying on top of things."

I know I've been guilty in the past of using the "b-word" but I think I'll make it taboo from now on.

Along with "just", "quick" and "sorry" - when it's not meant wholeheartedly.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Book Branding Part 2

In my last blog post, I talked about Author Branding vs. Book Branding, and today I'm going to launch something rather special that's been waiting in the wings (or the hangar) ready to fly.

If I'd decided to go down the Author Brand route, I expect I would have put something together that would have ended up looking like every other Author Website, with a few fun facts about my schooldays, how much I love cake and how many cats I have (none).

But I decided early on that people aren't that interested in me, rather in getting a glimpse into the world of my books: characters, cars and planes featured, links and more. And all my websites do allow a little bit of author-ego indulgence as I'm not completely immune to the lure of the limelight.

The original idea for the look of the website came from Stefan Lochmann, the designer. In the stories a 21st century boy, born into the digital age, travels back in time to the mid-20th century. In the same way that the book design reflected an old book "found" in an attic, Stefan wondered what an "analogue website" would look like.

The idea translated into the websites for the first two books, each reflecting the specific setting and atmosphere of each story, but with the central idea of an "analogue website" made up from signs and materials from those times. So here, for example, we're whisked into a Cold War winter of 1957.
Website for Trouble in Teutonia

As with the book covers, the websites all reflect the essence of the book series: The Past is a Dangerous Country, and play with the digital/analogue theme as well as each having its own individual feel and atmosphere.

The latest story, The Al-Eden Emergency, is set in a 1966 Middle East and Swinging London jetpunk world. There's a preview shot at the top of this post to entice you in, and I can now proudly present the finished website.

Just be careful you don't tread on any scorpions!