Public notebook

How advertising distorts brand marketing

“Only when television managed to emancipate itself from the economic construct of advertising was there a real emancipation of story.”

So said David Simon, creator of the greatest piece of art that has ever aired on television, The Wire – speaking at the Edinburgh TV festival last month (about in an interview with Charlie Brooker.

Similarly, brands – companies, organisations, whatever – need to free themselves from advertising as the core of how they communicate, how they practise marketing.

So do agencies (in fact many of them are already).

Advertising, to most people, *is* marketing. Since the 1950s at least, the TV ad has been the hub, the centrepiece of how marketing gets done. It’s where the money is, where a lot of talent goes.

Anyway, I was thinking about this last week prepping for a presentation at NMALive called “Influencing the Influencers”.

The title set me of on three trains of thought:

  • 1. How advertising as an “economic construct” distorts marketing and therefore business more widely.
  • 2. We need for models of communication that target both traditional influencers (media, celebrities, experts) and “accidental influencers“.
  • 3. Networks are inherently unpredictable (because they complex adaptive systems) – we need to avoid illusions of being able to predict and control behaviours and focus on “How to be lucky” as brands.

Here’s the presentation…

How to Be Lucky (Influencing the Influencers presentation from NMALive Sep 09)

View more presentations from Antony Mayfield.

Back to advertising vs. marketing. Advertising, TV advertising, distorts marketing in the digital age in lots of ways. The business models and the economic imperative still pulls in disproportionate amounts of budget, talent and attention from brand owners and marketers generally.

Just as The Wire was the result of TV being set free as a medium from advertising-only business models, organisations will benefit from being set free from the distorting influence of the advertising only model.

Public notebook

Thick value and re-engineering the marketing value-chain for networks

Thick value is a concept Umair has ben talking about for a while. The idea is that businesses look to create value rather than extract as much as they can get.

Thick value’s a useful neologism that you can use instead of saying things like “that business model is flogging a dead horse”. Or shorthand for “that company doesn’t really care about its customers does it? I think they just want to squeeze as much money out of people as possible. Herd them into the value-extraction (be it cash or attention) corral…

Recently he has started talking about marketing examples – like Mischief‘s brilliant Heathrow / Alain De Boton concept – of creating thick value. A much nicer PR approach than the thin value created by some PR stock-in-trade tactics like pseudo-surveys and pollution of knowledge / information media and network (see Flat Earth News and for more on that)…

There’s a phrase which a lot of people in agency-land use at the moment: “Earned Media“.
It’s a loaded-phrase very much double-edged and justifies a mixed metaphor (which may go off in your hand).

On the one hand, for marketers whose stock in trade has been blockbuster or wannabe-blockbuster creative, distributed via paid media, earned media helps them understand and explain what they are doing when they create content that they want to spread through social networks, through word of mouth. I use the phrase sometimes, because it displaces an old approach with a new approach.

So it describes the future, right? It shows old-school marketing getting its head around the shock of the new, doesn’t it?

Well not entirely. It means that the rest of the value-chain, or value-degrading-chain, the business model, the approach has not changed. Most importantly, the principles have not changed. They have the same ad-creation process that was there before, they are just swapping out the distribution element.

Paid Earned media will do the job of inflicting the message on the masses.

Wrong. Every aspect of marketing needs to be re-engineered, re-designed, to be successful in networks.

It starts with principles. Understand your networks, Be useful in your networks, Be live in your networks. It starts with a desire to create thick value.
If you start, rather than just finish, with the idea of creating thick value in marketing it changes everything about a campaign or the job of looking after a brand. You research to find out what people need, how you can benefit them directly, or create value in networks by making those networks work better, rather than just looking for opportunities to drop message bombs on their world.

You think about measurement as something that will help you refine the creative and conversational elements of what you are doing, rather than an after-the-fact justification for the activity itself. You think of ideas and creative as something that happens in response to what is happening in the networks around you, rather than a single hero-concept that is going to be thrown at consumers until they notice.

Guerilla marketing and earned media might be thought of as troubling phrases then because they extend bad analogies for relating to people that are important to a company. Guerilla marketing is the same bad war on attrition on attention by other means (we’ll plant improvised explosive messages by the roadside, we’ll booby trap bits of media and objects in the real world so that the message will blow up in their faces when they touch it).

Anyway, I need to go and do some more book-writing… As I said before – normal service on this blog will be restored in September. Just need to get this out of my system.
Meantime here’s Mr Haque talking about thick value…

Public notebook

Curation-led marketing?

I'm curating the contents of the 70s decor in my house at the moment - these are the kitchen tiles...
Image: I'm curating the contents of the 70s decor in my house at the moment

Quite pleased with a post about curating branded content I just put up on the iCrossing Connect blog, mainly because it draws together some thinking from a while back with a couple of practical examples of how people use search and social to curate content.

Curation’s more than optimisation, more than simply making the most of what you have got in terms of content. It’s also about being live in your networks – to curate networks you need to be listening. If you’re listening and you have aplatform for curations – such as a blog – then your approach has to be adaptive, agile etc.

It takes the emphasis off of the “one big idea” approach that has dominated the channel media model of campaigns. Creative has to tell the client what the big bet they are going to make with all their money is and then hope to goodness it ends up being a drumming monkey result rather than a airport trucks kind of result.

The big idea is “no more big ideas”, as m’learned colleage Jason Ryan put it, after we’d talked through the Toyota iQ case study.

Curation is the new creative anyone? (Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

Public notebook

No top Facebook apps from brands either…

Just as you won’t see a “viral video” from a brand in the blockbuster list for this genre, you won’t find any apps from brands in the top Facebook apps list.

As Dirk at News from the Herd notes, it’s about certain kinds of useful when it comes to hitting the sweetspot with Facebook users:

1- Produce addictive but simple to use games that don’t force ad messaging down users throats

2 – Give them a way to organise their lives, and/ or:

3 – Provide them with mildly competitive ‘social comparison’ tools vs their friends.

As Inside Facebook noted, the recent redesign of Facebook shook up the developer leaderboard, bringing the likes of LivingSocial to the fore.

Interesting to see Causes in the top 5 apps out there on Facebook. Reminds me of the excellent Brita “Filter for Good” campaign in the US, to reduce the amount of bottled water being consumed. The Facebook app and the Facebook group for this were just a couple of the parts of the approach.


The brand benefit is direct in this case – but it is a brand behaving like a movement, and benefitting (in terms of awareness) from helping people acknowledge, pass on a call to action around an issue, without having to commit to a great deal of effort. If they want to talk about it more, get involved more they can and Brita will give them a little more data and tools to do so (if they’re smart, which they seem to be).

Dirk asks if brands can ever win in Facebook:

It will be interesting to see if brands manage to make much head-way here, or whether it really is a case of as P&G’s head of interactive said last year, you can’t monetise a space where someone is breaking up with his girlfriend.

It’s a nice, pithy, provocative question. But monetising, advertising, interupting, branding up these spaces are far from the only option for brands. I think that as more brands develop their social web literacy we’ll see them feel more at ease with spaces like Facebook, find their legitimate, useful places in them.

I’m not sure if they will ever be blockbuster app hits that make it to the Appdata leaderboard. I think that should probably not be an objective for a brand. That “big is best” attitude is another one of those hangovers from channel thinking.

: : You can keep an eye on who is winning on Facebook by apps and developers at AppData.

Public notebook

Q: What have the most popular “virals” of all time got in common?

A: None of them was an advert (if you don’t count movie trailers).

I’ve taken to bookmarking excellent viral videos when I see them. Reason being, whenever I’m asked which viral videos are my favourite (journalists, conference panel moderators and analysts seem to ask this most often) I can never seem to recall one.

Maybe my recall for “virals” is like jokes – I’ve basically got three slots in my long term memory and once they’re full, I’ve not got much to go on.

This obsession with “viral videos” is a legacy thing, a hangover from the channels model of media. People projecting their wish that the world were still simple eneough that a 30-second video (easy concept to understand, recall, make money out of) still sat at the centre of it all.

Public notebook

Twitter… witter… itter… tter… er.


Image: Beware the Echo… (Credit: Zorilla)

Tom‘s an echo-chamber refusenik, which is one of several good reasons I make a point of reading everything he posts on his blog Usable Interfaces. He’s a guard against lazy thinking, re-Tweeted half-thoughts and emergent untested aphorisms.

Take his latest broadside – “Just because you can” – against Twitter noise in the UK marketing networks. Basically he’s taking issue with the idea that agencies *should* have a Twitter voice and that the longevity and frequency of that voice will show you how good they are at social media stuff (this also chimes with my own suspicion of Twitter lists as meaning anything – how can you benchmark behaviour in a single way when people have so many different ways of using it?).

I’ll pick you out a few challenges and warnings that might shake you out of sleepwalking into a world where you declare microblogging to be the answer to the agency world’s ills:

  • “…it’s also fair to say that the mere presence or absence of a twitter stream does not confirm or deny a reasonable approach to the medium – just as the presence of a brain does not imply brain activity.”
  • “…isn’t ‘thought leadership’ something that PR people invented in the late 90s…. I mean the concept that a single thought-leading idea will be used in marketing or PR. Isn’t is an idea precisely oriented to single-track mass media of which Twitter is the antithesis?”
  • “…the benefit of Twitter in terms of promoting our agency is that people can see that there is a great deal of (leading) thought going on, and they can get involved in those thoughts and start a debate. But EMC Conchango as an entity doesn’t have a single view on anything. It’s got 400 views.”
  • Having a single Twitter voice for his agency “would be a denial of thought, and certainly wouldn’t be an indication of our leadership position. Unless we were following the North Korea model.”

Cheers, Tom – thanks for the challenges and keeping us intellectually honest.

Public notebook

Bild’s Vado publishing eco-system and the promise of user generated advertising

Image: The Vado from Creative
Image: The Vado from Creative

This was an amazing week, that passed at a few hundred miles an hour, so sorry for the silence.

First thing that has grabbed me this morning as I peruse my feeds is this story from Jeff Jarvis about how the German magazine Bild, took the concept of the Flip‘s small, simple video camera, made it its own and sold 21,000 to readers in five weeks for just 69 EUROs each.

Result: thousands of “reader reporter” videos being submitted. Soon, the magazine says it will be using this growing installed based of video camera’d readers to launch a concept called “user geenrated advertising” in four weeks.


Here’s Jeff talking to Kai Dieckmann, editor of Bild about the story of the Vado so far…

The magazine worked with electronics company Creative to make the camera which sells cheaper than the already reasonable Flip. Even at the poor Sterling / Euro rate we’re looking at a Flip-like camera for about £50.

The uploading of video via USB to your computer defaults to Bild’s website… which encourages people to post their videos there, naturally.

The model reminds me of iPod+iTunes, only in reverse – it’s about creating content rather than just comnsuming it. In this case it is camera+platform+media company to go and promote that platform…

Really looking forward to seeing what this highly innovative media company does with “user generated advertising”. I’ll be asking my colleagues at iCrossing Germany to keep a close eye on how this thing evolves…

Public notebook

This sort of thing will give direct mail a good name…

…if they’re not careful.


When James Gardner got a copy of a book by someone with the same name it intrigued and then delighted him. Then he realised it was just a clever bit of direct marketing from Adobe.

The amount of time I spent examining this book – which has a table of contents outlining every significant feature of their solution – was orders of magnitude higher than I would have done on a simple brochure. In fact, the brochure would have been put in the bin immediately.

This book, however, will stay on my desk, probably indefinitely.

Nice work.

Public notebook

Error message marketing

Image: The first screen-shot of Chrome for OS X
Image: The first screen-shot of Chrome for OS X

I love the fact that the first screen shot for the Mac version of Chrome, Google’s browser, is an error message. And the launch date? No word, just an ambition to “have a multi-process browser limping by the end of the quarter.”

Where others would promise launch dates and then wince as they slip, where others would affect an expectation of perfection, message themselves into new levels of over-promise, Google just gets on with it and lets everyone know where it’s at.

Is this word-of-mouth marketing with an error message? I suppose, in a sense it is…


Public notebook

Faris on the “natural selection of interesting”

Image: From The Origin of Species
Image: From The Origin of Species

After Mr Obama got sworn in some things threw me off kilter – sorry for the indecent silence…

Warming up with some things catching my eye, I’ll be building to an outpouring of pent up thoughts about social, strategy and the business of everything.

Hail Faris Yakob for weaving together two of my best-loved skeins of thought:

  1. Evolutionary theory and complexity (see Beinhocker)
  2. Competition for attention

He’s musing about why things win out in attention markets and rolls out a lovely phrase from his brother – it’s all about the “natural selection of interesting”…

Ants in colonies don’t require any conscious top down organisation – local rules exist and individual behaviours leave pheremone trails that get reinforced if the behaviour is imitated, which leads to directional changes of the whole.

We leave links and tags, tweets and posts, instead of pheremones – and these guide the allocation of attention.

Oh – that’s just beautiful. An elegant analogy for the social web if ever there was one…

Image: If it's interesting, we'll help each other find it
Image: If it's interesting, we'll help each other find it (Image: Budslife Busy)

He continues:

As Duncan Watts has pointed out, the structure of the network is as important as that which seeks attention, and the same thing that becomes an attention grabbing hit one day, may not the next.

This chimes with the story of Dogster and impact horizons that its founder Ted Rheingold talks about. This is how I tell it in the Brands in Networks e-book:

When Ted started Dogster he was developing new content and features with project times – from spotting a need to getting something out there – of about a month. As revenue began to come in from premium subscriptions and sponsorship deals he began to invest in more ambitious projects with longer lead times.

Suddenly, it seemed, the failure rate for projects began to increase. When a review of projects that were failing was conducted, a common factor was quickly spotted: almost all of the failing projects had taken six months or more from idea to public release. They were failing because the community had moved on; was interested in other things. Their needs had shifted.

Ted calls this effect: the impact horizon. Ever since, he has been working on bringing down the development time for new features to as close to a month as possible.

You start thinking about competing for attention in this environment and you get to thinking about the production process for your lovely useful/interesting ideas, bits of content, data, whatever that you’re going to send out into the big bad networks ecosystem. And suddenly building one thing starts to look like a very precarious approach.

Much better to build a process or platform for producing lots of things – because there’s a better chance of some of them working. When an idea takes, earns some good attention, ask why before the narrative bias kicks in and you’re tempted so it was always going to be that way.

Then ask how you would do it again.

Anyway – more of that later…