Friday 22 March 2013

The dinosaur strikes back

It's been a while since I actually wanted to stand up and cheer someone in the advertising business, but this article in AdAge elicited a small 'Hurrah!'

The report is from a 'Wired Global Conversation' panel in which John Hegarty took part. When the flavour-of-last-year subject of Big Data came up, Hegarty commented, in reference to the recent horse meat scandal: 'You look at too much data and you don't actually see what's going on around you.'

Bob Greenberg, of R/GA retaliated with an example of how data could be used creatively - '...when I walk into Nike Town and they know who I am and they'll be able to serve up really relevant content.'

Presumably unimpressed with the prospect of the serving-up of content (somehow that word always reminds me of stomach contents - perhaps Mr Hegarty had the same feeling) that's not just quite relevant but really relevant, the veteran ad man retorted with a classic line:

'To those brands that say "I understand you" I say F*** off, you don't understand me. Mind your own business, I don't want to be understood by you. I don't understand myself sometimes...and it can be fun.'

Hear, hear. Even if they aren't stupid enough to 'say' this directly in their communication, there are plenty of brands - or at least people who manage them - who write this down in their strategy, their positioning. We understand 'the consumer'. There are even departments in some companies called Consumer Understanding departments.

It is difficult enough to understand yourself, or your nearest and dearest. The people who run brands should realise: you don't need to understand every aspect of my psyche in order to make a washing powder that gets my clothes clean without wasting energy.

John Hegarty may be an advertising dinosaur, but think about dinosaurs for a moment. One thing is sure - everyone remembers their names.

Monday 18 March 2013


My website first saw the light of day back in 2006, so after seven years, I began to get a bit itchy and decided it needed a facelift. It hasn't changed hugely, but it's less "flashy", there's no intro and I've got all those wonderful widgets and badges to connect up my scattered social media profiles.

I wonder, if I'd been setting it all up today, if I'd have bothered with a website. After all, it costs money and it's a faff to continually change or update. Maybe I could have got away with a Facebook Page which linked up to a blog and a Twitter stream.

But, no. I think it's important to have a position, beliefs, unchanging principles. And I was happy to find that those on my website are as relevant today as they were back in 2006.

It's a bit like being a book author rather than just a blogger. At the end of it, the blog is all about currency and the here-and-now and like most journalism, forgotten tomorrow. A book may lose its superficial currency, but it makes up for it in depth and focus on the unchanging truths of human nature.

Like everything in life, we need both permanence and change. 

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Real-icky Show

Like most other companies, grocery retailers bang on ad infinitum in their corporate and other communications about what they care about, what they love, what they're passionate about.

That's all well and good but a retailer especially has to show that they care - in every meeting with the customer. And most of those take place in-store, still.

When I think about our local supermarkets, a couple of them are clear in what they care about via the store experience. REWE, for example - there's caring about quality here (which you can see from their fresh produce and their luxury own label) as well as a human/friendly/local touch, which comes through the people that work there. And there's ALDI, of course. They care about price. They really care, and it shows.

But what of Real, the hypermarket who are part of Metro, the world's 5th largest retail group? There used to be two Real stores within a kilometer of each other near us (a legacy of Real being a patchwork brand, with defunct stores of other retailer brands being bought up here and there.) Real has always been a bit of a mish-mash when it comes to what they care about. The ads and the logo focus on price, but I think the main pulling point was always the range - beyond groceries, as encapsulated in the endline Einmal hin. Alles drin.

But our big Real that really did have "alles drin" has closed and we were forced to visit its poorer, smaller cousin. Oh dear, where can I start? The place was filthy and smelly and it seemed no wonder that the horse meat scandal had hit here the hardest. The sport, clothing and electronics sections looked like a flea market with the best things gone. And as we got outside, we nearly stepped into a splat of vomit.

Real won't be meeting these particular customers again.  

Thursday 7 March 2013

Data can't tell you anything

I don't know if it's just me, but I never look at amazon's recommendations for me. I do, however, follow up avidly with "people who bought this also bought that..."

Why? There are a few reasons. First of all, amazon have been so off in their recommendations sometimes - basing these on something I bought as a present that really wasn't my cup of tea at all. Or a set book I bought for my son's school. And secondly, the "people who bought this also bought that" is a simple statement of fact, not an attempt at a prediction or a judgement. Finally, in my egotistical way, I assume that, while "people" probably have predictable and consistent tastes, mine are so widely eclectic and downright weird that even someone who knows me well couldn't really predict what I might like (how many times have I had to give up on some trashy novel that a friend pressed into my hand on the promise that "you'll love this"?) - let alone a computer.

There has been increasing criticism of Google and Facebook forcing us into what Eli Pariser describes as The Filter Bubble which goes beyond meaningless recommendations into the sphere of these digital behemoths limiting and controlling the internet for us, based on past behaviour. You can do worse than taking a few of the steps recommended by Eli Pariser to escape the bubble.

And, for those of us in marketing: let's not get seduced by Big Data. And there I go, falling into my own trap. Data can't seduce me any more than research can tell me what to do. Algorithms don't think, they compute. The research does not say and the market does not demand.

All these things are inanimate. They cannot judge quality of interaction, or know the complete context - or separate a meaningless correlation from a meaningful one. Nor can they predict.

Only human beings can do these things - the data can't tell us anything on its own.

Sunday 3 March 2013

The A-Z of Commerce

I've come across a few articles recently that speak of "Pervasive Commerce" and, as we're going to be entering the age of it, probably as I type, I thought I'd better get smart about it.

E-Commerce (ordering stuff online in plain English) has been mainstream for almost 20 years now - I can't remember the first time I ordered something online, now, but expect it was a book from amazon. There's a whole generation now who have never known anything else. That represented a huge step-change in our perceptions of instant gratification. As long as you were near a computer, connected to the internet, you could order stuff 24/7.

Pervasive Commerce or U-Commerce where "U" is "Ubiquitous" refers to E-Commerce as well as this lot, some of which were also new to me:

M-Commerce (Mobile, and Verdict Research estimates that 80% of the population will use mobile for at least some part of the purchase process by 2016)

V-Commerce (Voice)

T-Commerce (Television)

S-Commerce (Silent-Commerce: you know the sort of thing - when your iPhone and the washing machine get together to buy a pack of Persil without you noticing.)

But, in all of this, I can't help noticing that the word "Pervasive" always has negative overtones. Is a pervasive smell ever nice? And however much commerce progresses in terms of time and space, there will always be the rebels who decide that they do want to go into a quaint little shop smelling of leather and shoe-polish, be measured up and wait a few weeks for a pair of finely-crafted, handmade shoes.

Even if they do end up paying for them via voice-activated online banking.