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I HEART MEMES

Susan Blakemore wrote ‘The Meme Machine’.
She says a meme isn’t simply something that occurs on the Internet, like LOL-cats or hashtags.
In Wikipedia it’s defined as follows:
“A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through, writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena.”
Put simply, a meme is something that catches on.
Susan Blackmore gives an example of a meme in everyday life.
She shows a photo of a toilet in a backpacker’s hostel in Malaysia.
The toilet is very basic of course, tatty, well worn, but clean.
We don’t notice anything unusual until she points out the toilet roll.
The corners of the first sheet have been folded over.
She shows various photos of the same thing, the first sheet of toilet paper with the corners folded.
In a hostel in Shanghai, in a toilet on a Japanese train, in an outdoor toilet in Thailand,
Why is it happening everywhere, what does it signify?
Well to most of us it signifies that we will be the first person to use that toilet since it was cleaned.
But when did that become a sign?
Personally, I first noticed it several years ago.
At home, we had a cockney cleaning lady called Carole.
Her sons paid for her to have a holiday in a nice New York hotel.
Carole noticed that every day after the cleaning staff had finished, they folded the corners on the first sheet on the toilet roll.
Carole had never seen that before.
But she liked it and remembered it.
She thought it looked professional even though it cost nothing.
When she came back, she began doing it to our toilet rolls.
It was Cariole’s way of signifying that she’d done her job: that room was now clean and ready to use.
I didn’t know it had caught on until I saw Susan Blackmore’s talk.
But that’s exactly how a meme works.
No one tells us what it means, but we see it and we get it.
We like it so we use it.
Then, other people do the same and it gets into the language.
Without ever being explained, or discussed, or taught.
Another meme would be the heart symbol.
We see it everywhere, especially on Valentine’s Day cards.
But in medieval times it was a heraldic device used on shields and banners.
At some point it became the universal symbol for love.
Then it was carved into trees.
And now, it even substitutes for the word itself: “I (heart) NY”.
The extended middle finger would be another meme.
It’s believed to be an ancient Italian gesture, indicating homosexuality.
Immigrants took it to New York with them.
It was adopted as a universal insult and spread across America.
And spread, via American films, across the world.
That’s what a meme is, a symbol that catches on and communicates.
That’s how semiotics works, that’s how language works.
That’s how all communication works.
If we want our work to catch on, we need to study memes.

Not assume it’s merely an Internet phenomenon.

BIG DATA v SMART DATA

A while back, a man went into a Target supermarket in Minneapolis.
He asked for the manager.
He said “I find this offensive. Your store has sent this leaflet, personally addressed to my teenage daughter.
Coupons for maternity clothing, nursery furniture, baby-clothes, baby milk, diapers.
My daughter is still in school, what are you trying to do, encourage her to get pregnant?”
It seemed like a mistake so the manager apologised.

A week later the manager still felt bad, so he called the man to apologise again.
This time the man was sheepish.
He said “Ah, there have been some things happening at home that I didn’t know about. My daughter actually was pregnant and she hadn’t told us”.
How did that happen?
How did Target’s mailing system know the daughter was pregnant before she even told her parents?
Like most stores, Target has an enormous amount of information on its customers’ purchases.
But none of that data is useful unless you know what to do with it.
So in 2002, Target hired a statistician called Andrew Pole.
Most customers’ shopping habits are well-formed and hard to change.
The only time they are vulnerable is during lifestyle changes.
Graduating college, moving house, changing jobs, marriage or divorce.
And the biggest lifestyle change of all is having a baby.
If a store can get pregnant customers to buy their baby goods, they’ll buy everything else there too, just for convenience.
But if they wait until the baby is born, it’s too late.
Because they’ll be bombarded with offers from all the other stores.
So Target needed to identify pregnancies before anyone else.
Andrew Pole spotted 25 purchasing changes during the various stages of pregnancy.
For instance: around the third month, women switch from scented soap to scent-free soap.
Around the 4th month, they begin buying calcium, magnesium, and zinc supplements.
Around the 8th month, they begin buying large packs of cotton balls and hand-sanitizers.
But this specific targeting created a problem.
Women began to feel uneasy about Target knowing so much about their private life.
They felt they were being spied on.
And this is where big-data needed creative marketing.
Andrew Pole disguised the contents of the leaflets they sent out.
They would still be full of baby-goods, but now there was a lawnmower next to the diapers, and a wineglass offer next to the baby clothes.
Lots of irrelevant offers amongst the baby-goods.
Now the women didn’t think they were being spied on.
Now they thought they’d spotted what they wanted in a leaflet full of lots of other money-off offers.
They weren’t interested in the other offers, but that didn’t matter.
They were just there to disguise the real offers.
Thanks to Pole’s statistical analysis, Target sales increased by 50%.
From $44 billion, when he was hired in 2002, to $67 billion by 2010.

We don’t need big data, we need smart data.

SHAKE THINGS UP

BBH won the Audi account, so John Hegarty went on a factory visit.
All car factories are pretty much the same.
Robots moving body panels around, partially assembled cars on production lines, men tightening screws with airline power tools.
A production line is a production line.

Looking for something different, John noticed an old poster on the wall, it featured the line VORSPRUNG DURCH TECHNIC.
John asked the guide what it meant in English.
The guide said it meant “Progress through technology”.
Something clicked in John’s head.
It wasn’t Audi’s marketing strategy, but somehow it just felt right.
Feelings are something we’re taught to beware of, they are random and subjective.
But John began to wonder what it was he liked about this line.
Why did it feel so right for Audi?
And he unpacked his intuition and inspected it.
Audi was German.
But nobody in the UK knew that.
If asked, everyone thought it was Scandinavian or Belgian.
John felt, rather than thought, this was a massive opportunity.
Audi was a German car but nobody knew it.
German cars had massive appeal for precision engineering, reliability, and quality.
Names like: Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, Volkswagen, commanded a premium.
With a few German words he could immediately brand Audi as a German car.
And John decided to put that line on the end of all the ads.
Of course he met a lot of resistance internally, from the suits.
A strap line that no one could understand made no sense, and anyway it wasn’t on strategy.
But John insisted on presenting it to the client, John Mezzaros.
Who said he understood and liked it, but he would have to research it: company policy.
So the line was researched and of course it failed.
Not merely because no one understood it.
But at that time, thirty years ago, people still remembered the war.
They didn’t like the idea of German language appearing on advertising.
So the line failed in research.
But then John Mezzaros showed that he was a different sort of client.
He liked the fact that it failed in research.
More accurately, he liked the reason it failed in research.
He said that unless they did something dramatic, things would stay as they were.
He said they needed to “shake things up”.
He accepted John Hegarty’s reasoning that Audi needed to be seen as a German car.
This was surely the highest profile way to do that.
With a line that would command attention by being controversial.
A line that would create debate, create free media, and lodge Audi, once and for all, in everyone’s mind as German.
So because of the two Johns, Hegarty and Mezzaros, that became the end line on every Audi press ad and commercial.
Audi became known for all the qualities associated with German cars.
Value perception went up, prices went up, sales went up.
And Audi is still BBH’s first and most successful client.

Great clients get great advertising.

ENTENTE CONCORDIAL

In 1977, Concorde began flying London to New York.
The big benefit was flying at double the speed of sound, more than twice as fast as any airliner.
So you got there in half the time.
The problem was Concorde was very expensive to run.
It was losing money.
It had been financed by the government and, as usual, they were looking for ways to cut costs and save money.
So they decided to scrap Concorde.

But British Airways didn’t want Concorde scrapped.
Concorde had become the symbol of their superior status.
Whether or not you flew on it, simply having it made BA the Rolls Royce of airlines.
They thought Concorde was vital to their brand.
So BA bought the Concordes from the government.
But they couldn’t carry on running them at a loss.
Obviously, they had to find a way to make them pay.
The best place to start is always information: researching the market.
And they found something that certainly wasn’t obvious.
They looked at who bought the tickets, and how they were bought.
Of course it wasn’t tourists who flew Concorde.
It was senior business people, for whom time was important.
But they didn’t buy the tickets themselves, their PAs booked it.
The insight was when the research was carried out separately, among the PAs and their bosses.
One of the questions asked was what they thought the cost of a ticket on Concorde was.
The PAs got it right of course, they booked it.
But the bosses all got it wrong.
They thought a flight on Concorde cost many times more than it actually did.
And they were perfectly willing to pay it, they were interested in saving time not money.
So British Airway decided they could put the prices up.
And when no one murmured, they put them up again, and again.
Still no one complained.
If their bosses insisted on Concorde, the PAs weren’t going to argue.
And their bosses weren’t going to save few quid by flying the slow, old-fashioned way with tourists.
The more it cost the more it represented a luxury service.
The sort of thing a top businessman needs to do his job properly.
Like a chauffeur-driven limo.
Something to separate the movers and shakers from the hoi polloi.
And of course, extravagant cost represented exclusivity.
This is called the Veblen effect.
Flying Concorde became a club, something they were proud to be in.
And so, for the very rich, Concorde became the way to travel.
Concorde began operating more and more profitably.
When BA first bought them from the government, the fare was pegged at the cost of first class on a normal airliner, £600.
Within a few years it had risen nearly tenfold, to £5,400.
It made Concorde more popular than ever.
Cheaper isn’t always the right way to go, chasing volume.
Yes, your income must cover your overhead or you go out of business.
But that doesn’t always mean cutting costs.

It might mean the opposite.

ENERGY BEATS TALENT

Aitthipat ‘Tob’ Kulapongvanich was a teenager in Thailand.
Tob had started a small business selling dried seaweed.
Everyone loved it, but he needed distribution to get trial.
How to get it?
Then he happened to see a TV programme, an American businessman was talking about his success.
He said the secret was a strategy of gorilla marketing.
And a lightbulb went off in Tob’s head, that was it: gorilla marketing.
In the town where he lived were lots of 7-Eleven shops.
Sometimes even two on the same street.
If he could get distribution through the 300 branches of 7-Eleven, he would be like a big gorilla, distributing his seaweed to everyone.
He managed to see the 7-Eleven buyer, Mrs Pu.
He persuaded her to try his seaweed, she said they would take it, on one condition.
They needed 400 boxes to distribute to the 3,000 branches.
This was a shock for Tob.
3,000 branches? He had thought they only had 300 branches.
The most boxes he could produce in a month was 280.
But he knew he must behave like a gorilla to do gorilla marketing.
So he said he’d do it.
The effort nearly killed him, but he and his staff just made it in time.
Then he visited as many of the stores as he could.
His seaweed depended on trial.
But it was just stacked up on the shelves, it wasn’t getting trial.
Tob decided, in food, the cheapest form of advertising is free trial.
So he began giving away free samples, but only to women.
If he gave it to men, they’d just eat it.
But if he gave it to women they’d share it, and they’d talk about it.
Reaching the most people possible, that was thinking like a gorilla.
And Tob’s gorilla marketing worked.
In 3 months, 7-Eleven sales went from 600,000 Baht to 2 million Baht.
Tob moved to a bigger factory, like a gorilla would.
Sales grew from 10 million Baht to 250 million Baht.
And Tob began to export to over thirty countries.
Including the UK, the USA, China, Mexico, Holland, Vietnam, Korea.
Sales are now 2 billion Baht a year, and he has 2,000 employees.
All thanks to a lecture he heard on gorilla marketing.
Just one small point.
When Tob heard the lecture he got it wrong.
It isn’t gorilla marketing, it’s guerrilla marketing.
They sound the same but mean completely different things.
Guerrilla comes from the Spanish word ‘guerra’ meaning war, and ‘guerilla’ means a little war.
Guerilla tactics are about doing the things the big guys can’t.
Guerilla marketing is about speed, agility, surprise, innovation.
Not about behaving like a gorilla.
But Tob didn’t know that.
He believed gorilla marketing was the secret, he believed it and it worked.
It worked because it gave him energy, and belief, and passion.
See, it’s not important to learn the correct things.
It’s not important to memorise what’s in marketing books.
It’s not important to be right.
It’s important to be excited and inspired.

Energy beats talent.

ENOUGH WORDS

In 1895, Emily Davison got a first class degree at Oxford.
Except she didn’t.
Because women weren’t allowed to graduate.
There weren’t any jobs for women, so they didn’t need education.
In fact the only job Emily Davison could get was a governess.
A sort of posh nanny.
Well, children were all women’s brains were capable of understanding.

Emily Davison wouldn’t accept this.
So in 1906 she joined the women’s suffrage movement.
Suffrage meant the right to vote, these women were ‘suffragettes’.
The suffragettes began with peaceful protest.
Writing petitions, interrupting meetings, writing letters, making speeches, but it was all words.
It wasn’t much more than a nuisance, it could safely be ignored.
It had been ignored for forty years.
Emily Davison knew being ignored was the worst possible result.
The cause had to be taken deadly seriously.
So she attacked politicians, she threw rocks at the Prime Minister’s car.
She refused to run or hide, she forced the police to arrest her.
When they arrested her she refused to eat.
She thought the cause needed a martyr.
If she died in gaol, that would highlight the cause of women who only wanted justice and equality.
But the authorities wouldn’t let her die in prison.
They decided to force-feed her.
When she heard them coming she smashed all the furniture in her cell and used it to barricade the door.
So they used hosepipes to flood her cell with ice-cold water.
She was willing to drown, she waited for the end.
But while she did they broke down the door.
They overpowered her, strapped her to a bench, and proceeded to force feed her.
A rubber tube forced into her mouth or nose.
The tube forced down her throat.
A funnel put in the other end of the tube and a cabbage-like liquid poured into it.
Meanwhile, she is gagging, choking, and vomiting.
For suffragettes this practice was like a brutal rape.
Emily Davison was force-fed forty nine times this way.
It was clear they weren’t going to let her die in prison.
So, when she was eventually released, Emily Davison got a train to Epsom for the Derby.
The Derby isn’t just a horse race, it’s almost a national holiday.
The entire country watches it, and everyone bets on the horses.
And this would be the first time the Derby had ever been filmed.
It would be seen all over the British Empire and the rest of the world.
The King and Queen would be there, their horse was running.
And, in the middle of the race, Emily Davison stepped out onto the course and ran directly in front of the King’s horse.
And a ton of thundering horseflesh smashed into her and trampled her like a rag doll.
Her skull and spine were crushed, her insides were mangled.
The suffragettes had their martyr.
They decided she would have a huge funeral procession.
The government banned it.
But hundreds of thousands of people lined the route.
And even the police, sent to stop it, took off their helmets and bowed their heads in respect.
Within five years, women were given the right to vote.

There is a lesson for us on Emily Davison’s headstone.
It simply reads “DEEDS, NOT WORDS”.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF INTENDED ACTIONS

Rory Sutherland says the best way to make people perform charitable acts is not to appeal to their philanthropic nature.
It’s to appeal to their self-interest.
In other words: never mind anyone else, what’s in it for me?
Understanding that’s how people work is predatory thinking.

A great example of this is Arunachalam Muruganatham.
He lived in a small village in India.
He wasn’t educated but had an enquiring mind.
One day he saw his wife hiding something behind her back.
He asked what it was and found it was some dirty, bloodied rags.
The result of her menstruation.
In rural India this is a private, almost shameful, thing.
Not the thing people speak about, especially between men and women.
But Muruganatham had a simple, logical brain.
He asked why didn’t she buy the sanitary pads he’d seen in the shop?
She said they couldn’t afford them.
So he decided to make them himself, how hard could it be, they were just cotton after all.
He asked his wife to try the ones he made.
Which is when he found out that menstruation only happens once a month.
So he went to the local hospital, where they train female doctors.
He thought these women would at least be able to discuss it.
But he was wrong, and his entire village began calling him a pervert.
The gossip caused his wife to leave him.
So he got the bladder from inside a football, filled it with goat’s blood, and decided to simulate menstruation himself.
He wore the pad and the bladder, and squeezed out the blood as he walked or cycled around.
Even his mother shunned him, the villagers thought he was possessed by evil spirits.
But worse, his pad wasn’t absorbing blood.
He contacted the makers of the sanitary pads and found the cotton needed cellulose added to it to become absorbent.
He tracked down the machine for doing this, but it cost a fortune.
Out of the question.
So he designed and made his own machine, out of wood and wire.
Powered by a foot-treadle, like an old-fashioned sewing machine.
But getting local women to even discuss using it was impossible.
Very few women in rural India used sanitary pads, most used rags, or leaves, or ash.
So many reproductive diseases came from poor menstrual hygiene.
Yet even this wasn’t sufficient to get Indian women to discuss making sanitary pads.
But money was.
These women had to work, and feed families, for next to nothing.
Muruganatham explained that the cost of sanitary pads in the shops was SIXTEEN TIMES the cost of making them.
If they sold the pads for double, triple, even four times what it cost to make them, anyone buying them would still save 75%.
Money was an argument they could understand.
That was a discussion they weren’t ashamed to have.
And women happily began using his machine to make sanitary pads.
Now he has a thousand machines working in villages around India.
Each machine giving work to ten women.
Each woman making money to feed her family, to educate her children.
Eventually he was given an award by the President of India.
Seeing this, his wife, his mother, and his village apologised.
But Arunachalam Muruganatham doesn’t make a lot of money from his machines.
He says money isn’t the point.

He says “It isn’t poverty that kills. It’s ignorance that kills”.

SIMPLE DOESN’T LIE

John McGovern first played for Brian Clough at Hartlepool.
John McGovern liked to dribble the ball past opponents.
He kept it under close control.

One day, in training, Brian Clough called the youngster over to the touchline.
He dropped a ball at his feet.
He said “Run with that ball son, over to the corner flag, round the flag, and back here as fast as you can.”
McGovern did as he was told.
Keeping the ball ahead of him but always in control.
He kept it tight, all the way across the field and back to Clough.
Clough picked up the ball.
He said “Right now do it again without the ball.
Run over to the corner flag, round it and back here as fast as you can.”
McGovern didn’t see the point, but he knew enough not to argue.
He ran as fast as he could.
Arms pumping, legs pounding, feet flying.
He was round the flag and back in no time.
He waited, puffing.
Clough said “Now which was faster, you running with the ball or without the ball?”
McGovern said “Without the ball of course.”
Clough said “Right, now I want you to remember that because that’s how I want you to play.
Pass the fucking ball and run, don’t dribble it.
Pass the fucking ball and run. Have you got that?”
McGovern said it was the best lesson he learned in his career.
Embarrassingly simple, maybe.
Sure, Clough could just have said it.
But it stuck because it hadn’t just been said, it had been demonstrated  with all the subtlety of an air raid.
And that’s why it stuck with McGovern for the rest of his career.
And what about the rest of his career?
McGovern said he owed his career to Clough
He followed Clough when he went on to manage a little Second Division club called Derby.
Under Clough, Derby were promoted and won the First Division, the equivalent of today’s Premiership.
Making Derby the best team in England.
McGovern followed Clough when he went to Nottingham Forest.
Like Derby, Nottingham Forest were in the second division.
Like Derby, under Clough, they won promotion.
Like Derby, under Clough, they won the First Division.
Which made Nottingham Forest the best team in England.
Then little Nottingham Forest went on to win the European Cup.
Making them the best team in the whole of Europe.
And the next year Nottingham Forest won the European Cup again.
Making them the best team in all of Europe, two years running.
As McGovern said, Clough liked to keep it simple.
Because everyone understands simple.
Simple sticks in the memory
That’s why simple works.
Stupid people think complicated is clever.
Smart people know better than that.

They know you have to go beyond complicated to get to simple.

THE SUPREME COURT ON CREATIVITY

In 1953, Robert Kearns was getting married.
As he opened the champagne, the cork hit him in the eye.
For the rest of his life he was partially blind in that eye, and it always wept with tear fluid.
A year or so later, he was driving through a light drizzle.
He noticed the windscreen wipers only had one speed: on or off.
Either the wipers kept wiping even when the windscreen wasn’t wet.
Or he had to switch them on and off, as it needed wiping.
He thought about his bad eye.
It filled up with tear fluid, and he had to blink it away.
But he didn’t keep blinking all the time.
He needed wipers that worked the way his eyelid worked.
Only wipe when it’s wet.
So when he got home he set about inventing exactly that.
An intermittent windscreen wiper.
A wiper that could be adjusted to the amount of rain.
Wipe…..long pause……wipe……long pause……wipe…..long pause.
Just the way an eyelid works.
After ten years of experimenting, Kearns took his invention to Ford.
Between 1962 and 1965 he had several meetings with their engineers.
Then Ford stopped returning his calls.
And in 1969 they came out with their own version.
The first intermittent windscreen wiper on a production car.
Naturally, Robert Kearns sued Ford.
He was confident he would win because he had the patent.
But Ford were confident they would win because his design used only existing parts.
There wasn’t an original part in it.
And this, for us, is where it gets really interesting.
This is where we separate creativity from plagiarism.
The main test for an exclusive patent is called “non-obviousness”.
Does the ‘invention’ do any of the following 3 things:
1) Combine prior elements according to known methods to yield predictable results.
2) Simply substitute one known element for another to yield predictable results.
3) Apply a known technique to a known device to yield predictable results.
Ford said that Kearns had used only “known methods, known elements, and known devices” so his invention was not original.
But Kearns maintained that his device did not “yield predictable results” so it was original.
The United States Supreme Court agreed with Kearns.
Their ruling was as follows.
“It is idle to say that combinations of old elements cannot be inventions.
Substantially every invention is such a ‘combination’.
That is to say, it consists of former elements in a new assemblage.”
Ford had to pay Robert Kearns $30 million.
Later, Chrysler had to pay Robert Kearns $21 million.
Today every car uses his intermittent windscreen wiper system.
And the rule for creativity is now written into law.

There are no new ideas, just new combinations.

STRATEGY v THE REAL WORLD

1972 was just ten years after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Ten years after the world came the closest it’s ever been to blowing itself up.
1972 was still the height of the cold war.
Into this situation came Bobby Fisher, 29 years old and a chess phenomenon.
He seemed to effortlessly beat all opponents.
He was to chess what the young Mohammed Ali was to boxing.
Loud, cocky, obnoxious, and a genius.

But an American chess genius didn’t seem right.
Chess was slow, thoughtful, intellectual, quiet.
Chess was Russia’s game, they dominated it at every level.
And here was a young American upstart who threatened that domination.
The Russian World Champion was Boris Spassky.
In 1972 they met in Iceland for the showdown.
Spassky won the first game.
Straight away Fisher showed he wasn’t going to be a gentleman.
He blamed it on the noise from the TV cameras, he insisted they be removed.
When they refused he sulked in his room and missed the next match.
He forfeited the game, now it was Spassky 2, Fisher 0.
Fisher walked out, and only a call from the second most powerful man in the USA, Henry Kissinger, brought him back.
Spassky was unsettled by Fisher’s childish behaviour.
Fisher won the next match.
Then Fisher and Spassky drew the next match.
Fisher won the match after that, now they were equal.
Fisher won the next match with such spectacular moves that the entire audience, even Spassky, stood and applauded.
Fisher was in the lead.
They drew the next match, then Fisher won the next match.
They drew the next match, then Fisher won again.
Then Spassky won, then they drew.
Fisher was ahead, 5 games to 7.
The next game looked like an inevitable draw.
Both players adjourned, and the Soviet team of Grand Masters analysed the positions, they said it could only be a draw.
But Fisher stayed up all night, until 8am, considering his moves.
The next day he beat Spassky.
No one could believe it was possible.
After Fisher left, Spassky could only sit and stare at the board.
Fisher was now ahead 5 games to 8.
The next game was a draw, but Fisher threw a tantrum about noise.
He demanded the first seven rows of spectators be removed.
Spassky had never known anything like this.
It shook him up and he could only get a draw.
In fact it was all he could do to get a draw in the next six games.
By the twenty-first game he was broken.
He resigned by phone.
Handing the World Championship to Fisher, the rude, cocky American.
The entire tournament is still controversial.
Did Fisher beat Spassky on the chessboard, or by distracting him with his behaviour off the chessboard?
Whatever the truth, Fisher was the new World Champion.
So when a strategy is being discussed as if it was a perfectly ordered chessboard, with no distractions or outside influences, it’s worth remembering that isn’t how the world works.
I recently heard it said that it isn’t worth arguing with an Internet troll, because it’s like playing chess with a pigeon.

“The pigeon knocks all the pieces over, shits all over the board, then struts around like it won.”

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