30 Apr 2010

The genius of Douglas Rushkoff

This week, I'd written a post on the Ad Age Agency Report 2010. In it, I'd looked at a fundamental change in advertising that no one seems to notice. A change that was probably more alarming because it was expected: In 2009, the advertising industry recorded the biggest fall in revenue in its history! Only specialised digital advertising agencies recorded a 0.5% growth!

One seemingly irrelevant bit of trivia in the report was that the largest agency in the US was no longer on Madison Avenue, it was a digital data-centric direct marketing and CRM company based in Arkansas, called Acxiom. That was a surprise, certainly to me.

Then last night I came across a brilliant theorist, Douglas Rushkoff. on Frontline. And suddenly I was able to connect the dots. Seriously.

The two videos below are programmes on Frontline from 2001 and 2004. (They are rather long videos - about an hour each - but if you are in marketing or advertising, I strongly recommend you watch both.) Here's why...

The first video (2001) neatly sums up how 'traditional' advertising worked. It is primarily about medium-based broadcasting. It's about how big media, print and electronic, sold us a more desirable image of ourselves - and the brands that would enable it.

The second video (from 2004) offers what I believe is the clearest picture of what the next wave of advertising will look like. Yes, it is digital. And it is going to be about profile-based narrowcasting. From the outside, it looks like a good way to avoid clutter of mass media, but I think it's a more fundamental shift in the way we see ourselves.

Maybe it's because the globalised economy (and global media) has now given us an extremely ubiquitous and largely homogeneous global idea of what's 'cool'. (Just think, t-shirts and jeans is default attire today from Argentina to Norway, and Iran to Canada.) Or maybe it's how digital technologies like the Internet are enabling us to increasingly connect with communities of 'others like us', making us more comforable with who we are - and thus making advertising that's still showcasing a more desirable and 'cool' image, well, more or less obsolete. We now pay attention only when the message is has to do with the 'my or my community's interests'.

So what has Acxiom got to do with all this? You will see it at the end of the second video. So do I mean to say that the digital element, and direct marketing in particular, is the future of advertising? Well, it'd be foolish to think it won't be at the heart of it.

Now watch.



Meanwhile, Douglas Rushkoff's fundamental theory is that the Internet has yet to realise it's true potential as a tool for social change. And I am not talking Facebook and Twitter here, folks.

Watch, as this rather inarticulate and border-line incoherent genius expounds his theory at Web2ExpoSF 09. It's called "How the Web Ate the Economy, and Why This Is Good for Everyone"!

28 Apr 2010

It's your PowerPoint-of-View

There was an article the day-before, in The New York Times, called, "We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint", on how PowerPoint presentations are making it hard for the Pentagon to focus on doing what it's supposed to do!

Well, it isn't just the largest military in the world that struggling in the cross-hairs of statistics-laden slides and bullet-points. (Oh, the irony!)

Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who likened PowerPoint to "an internal threat", said: "It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. [...] Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

I think the problem with PowerPoint is that excessive reliance on simplistic cause-effect formulae and statistics, suppresses the value of intangible, 'human' aspects of communication - like passion and conviction - which tell intuitively if the presenter truly understands and believes in what he or she is saying.

But frankly, I find the ability to break down an idea, and direct an audience's line-of-thinking in one particularly direction with PowerPoint, quite useful at times.

27 Apr 2010

"Dude, where's my 'traditional'?"

Last Friday, I was at a lively and hotly contested Quiz event. Eight teams, out of 175, had made it to the finals. Among them was one razor sharp 75-year old and several school kids with outstanding general knowledge. And there were questions that stumped them all.

But one moment struck me as particularly poignant.

It was the kids' turn, and an on-screen projection had two clues. Well, long story short, the kids got the right answer - but a photograph of Alfred Hitchcock, elicited this reaction from the school kids: "No clue who that is!"

I was incredulous, and scandalised at the same time! It dawned on me after a while - as it often does - that the world had simply moved on!

Today's generation has a different frame of reference from the one I have. I discovered Justin Bieber, the youtube sensation just a couple of weeks age. And I haven't the faintest clue who the latest 'Idol' is in Reality TV-dom. It's doesn't seem fair to expect a sixteen-year old to be as aware as I am of culture in the 80s!

So what other frame has shifted? What about media? Does it mean anything to the conflict between 'traditional media' and 'new media'? Does it mean that a sixteen-year old's 'traditional' is a thirty-something's 'new'?

Since advertising will go where the most people are... Since the 80s, ads have starting filling every second in between TV programming (and even getting into it). Now that we're on the Internet more often, it's obvious that advertising is bound to follow. That's probably why there's such feverish expectation around brands like Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare.

But everyone's especially on edge because no-one seems to have truly 'cracked an online formula' - if indeed, there is one!

In an unrelated (if you want to think so) piece of news from the Ad Age Agency Report 2010: "For the first time in the history of the Agency Report, the ranking's biggest agency is far removed from the clique and clack of Madison Avenue. The largest U.S. agency is Arkansas-based Acxiom, a major player in data-centric direct marketing and customer-relationship management."

And in still more unrelated (if you insist) news, 'digital specialty agencies' were the only ones to grow, albeit by a meagre 0.5%!

To me, the chart isn't important... It's still Yesterday vs. Today. What is important is the fact that WPP earned about 25% of its revenue from 'digital' in 2009, when no-one's really sure what really works online. And in 2009, the rest of the advertising industry recorded the sharpest revenue decline in history!

Something's definitely changed, don't you think?

(Oh, yes! One more thing... I'm going to try to never say:'Kids these days!' I figure, now I know better.)


Couldn't help myself...

Heineken: Men With Talent

Heineken: Housewarming

26 Apr 2010

Up The Irons

If you're on Facebook, please join the movement to get Iron Maiden to open the 2012 Olympics in London. The band members are East Londoners, and they are without doubt, the most unifying force on the face of the planet - ok, in music. Here's a convincing point of view in guardian.co.uk

Honestly, with numbers like "The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner", who better?

22 Apr 2010

Greenpeace for Earth Day

Greenpeace is celebrating Earth Day. Nice.

You can give the Earth a hand here.

20 Apr 2010

Well begun is half done

If we reduce to a cause-and-effect scenario the recent subprime lending crisis that nearly brought down the economy of the world, the blame can probably be laid at the doorstep of some of the most ugly and forgettable Advertising which happened to include three words of copy: NO DOCUMENTS NEEDED

Think about it for a minute... A person without the (documented) means to repay a loan would not even consider approaching a reputable bank.

But why did the addition of those three words prompt people to apply for loans that they really did not need?

Before we being to answer that question... Let us take a detour to the other side of the globe - to an average II Class Sleeper compartment of the Indian Railways in the Southern Indian state of Kerala - to witness another unique marketing technique.

Hawkers handout stacks of cheap trivia and recipe books to bored passengers in every coupe. They then disappear long enough for most passengers to select a book and browse. When they return, not everyone buys the book, but I am fairly certain these guys have a conversion rate that is ridiculously higher than the bookstores stocking quality literature at the stations.

Just why did the hawkers' little antic make people buy books that they did not need?

The commonality in both the cases of the unintentional borrowers as well as book-buyers is this: The critical first activity in making a purchase was almost eliminated. (In the first case, there was no tedious documentation between the borrower and easy money; and in the second instance, inertia against selecting a book was overcome.)

Forget 'building brands' and 'starting conversations' for a moment. If we sweep aside the cobwebs of agency-speak, and polish away the patina of habit, what else is Advertising but the first step that leads to a 'purchase'?

Why a 'first step'? Praxeology, the study of human action, and especially the work of Ludwig von Mises and the Austrian School of Economics, concluded that human action cannot be predicted - and that it essentially consists of a series of decisions.

According to Rory Sutherland's Blog, "Behavioural economists call this step-by-step approach “chunking” and [...] what also seems to be true is that the nature of the first step has an insanely disproportionate effect on whether people complete the journey."

Bottom line: If your Advertising / Marketing effort can eliminate the first step or makes it extremely easy, the possibility of completing a purchase will increase manifold!


Trying too hard shows. And what shows is not always flattering.

This is the latest post by an eminently readable adman going by the nom de plume, 'Grumpy Brit'.

19 Apr 2010

One word...


This is a must-read. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, currently serial entrepreneur (CEO of Jupiter Capital) and Member of the Indian Parliament (Upper House) ...and at one point of time, one of only three 'CPU architects' in Intel was interviewed on 01 August 2005 by Vir Sanghvi, currently Editorial Director of the Hindustan Times.

Ah! Another I-didn't-know-that moment.

IPL match-fixed

Vir Sanghvi is one of India's best known print and TV journalists. He is currently Editorial Director of the Hindustan Times.

Vir has written an informative article on the controversy surrounding the latest IPL cricket team bids. It is titled quite plainly, "The IPL controversy demonstrates that Indian sport will always be coated in sleaze".

Real-life Augean Stables!

18 Apr 2010

Successful because highly unorthodox, or unorthodox because highly successful?

In my post a little while back, I had touched upon the fact that most corporate cultures breed inertia. Stick with the herd. Do what's always been done. Do it the way it's always been done. Do not question the status quo. And never ever attempt to go against the flow.

The primary reason being safety in numbers. After all, in a group, individuals are absolved of accountablility. The means become the end. Processes take over from goals. Process that ensure uniformity and conformity... Prizing consistency and predictablity of the mediocre and mundane, over passion and impetuosity of the original and creative.

But there is one entity that thumbs it's nose at the accepted 'herd culture'. And it is thriving seemingly because it dares to be different! (Or is it because one man dares to be different?)

An excerpt from a post on Apple Inc., titled Non-Apple’s Mistake at loper-os.org goes...

"Apple’s competitors cannot actually copy the secret of its greatness, because Apple is a fundamentally different type of organism. Rather than a brainless government-by-committee, it is an extension of one man’s will, projected with the aid of a small group of trusted lieutenants: no focus groups in sight.

[...] If you are creative, create. Otherwise, strive to find a strong-willed Jobs figure gifted with good taste, and become his loyal servant. This is how we get quality products, everywhere from architecture to operating systems. There is no other way. Creativity requires a mind, and a herd has none."

How true. (Even if it is one man's mind!)

17 Apr 2010

Why Wall Street's more creative than Madison Avenue

Another redux from the dark and murky depths of Wall Street transactions!

According to an AP report today... "SEC accuses Goldman Sachs of defrauding investors"


"The (U.S) government on Friday accused Wall Street's most powerful firm of fraud, saying Goldman Sachs & Co. sold mortgage investments without telling the buyers that the securities were crafted with input from a client who was betting on them to fail.

And fail they did. The securities cost investors close to $1 billion while helping Goldman client Paulson & Co., a hedge fund, capitalize on the housing bust. The Goldman executive accused of shepherding the deal allegedly boasted about the "exotic trades" he created "without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstrosities!!!""

On the bright side, there was someone who understood exactly what was going on... Heck, he scripted it!

John Paulson, who runs Paulson & Co. - and surprisingly, is not a relative of former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who is himself a former Goldman CEO - understood well enough to have "[...] pocketed $3.7 billion". He wasn't entirely selfish... "His firm earned more than $15 billion in 2007".

(Just out of curiosity, how many zeros are there in all this swindle?)

Apparently Mr. Paulson, John not Henry, wasn't quite done... "He has since earned billions more, largely by betting against bank stocks and then buying them back after their shares plunged."

And the best part of it all...

The Goldman executive who engineered the deal which he understood nothing about "has since been promoted to executive director of Goldman Sachs International in London!"

Capital stuff, this!

Apple comes to Madison Avenue... and kicks butt

I posted about Apple's iAd (part of iPod OS 4.0) a few weeks back. Well, iAd does have the makings of a game-changer. And it's not the technology, but the concept.

When an Ad feels like an extension of an activity that interests the user, instead of being an interruption, it stops being an Ad - and is perhaps even welcome! I guess it applies for any Ad created with both context and relevance at it's core. (You can imagine the conversion rate on this!)

I can think of three points from a potential consumer's point-of-view that'll ensure optimum conversion for any Ad:
1.) The Ad message fits seamlessly in the context of the activity, i.e. it doesn't feel intrusive, and yet gives a compelling reason to read/watch/listen/click.
2.) The Ad doesn't yank the user off someplace else - i.e. it does not change the subject.
3.) The Ad/experience concludes with the answer to 'How can I get one right now?'

Now over to Steve Jobs...

Madison Avenue, be afraid. Be very afraid.

12 Apr 2010

Time is of the essence

Here is some food for thought... You know, how the hours fly when you are doing something that you like; and how every second feels like eternity in an uncomfortable situation. That means our perception of 'time' is actually relative to our 'experience' of the moment.

So, if there was no other way to tell time, a person with more positive experiences would actually feel younger than his/her actual age; and one who had more negative experiences would feel older!

But what does 'time' really have to do with Marketing and Advertising?

I'll allow Bud Caddell's presentation to explain in a more erudite fashion. Bud is Strategist at Undercurrent, NYC. He also has a blog I regularly read. It's aptly named whatconsumesme.com

11 Apr 2010

The coolest invasion of earth

Written, Directed, 3D and SFX : Patrick Jean
Director of Photography : Matias Boucard

After all the horrible abuse pixels have been put through, one almost expects this...

3 Apr 2010

The cessation of understanding

There are lot's of stuff, whose operational details I don't even pretend to understand. From Google's search alogarithm to 'herbal' toothpaste. Of course, that doesn't stop me from using it.

But when it comes to my work, I insist on understanding the general workings, if not the details. After all, I have to persuade a sceptical audience why it produces results that are more beneficial than a competitor's! I try and square up what the what the mysterious sciences of 'research' and 'planning' throw up with my understanding and intuition.

There is no magical silver bullet or panacea for getting everything right all the time. Because this is people we are dealing with!

Apparently, the finacial business is different...