Thursday, 30 August 2007

Planning agencies

Following up on this from PSFK, is this great presentation by Zeus Jones. Which I came across at Adam's great blog - thanks for the timely find.

Now I wouldn't say this is the model that will change things over night, but it's the thing that is exciting me the most at the moment.

Change the world?

The 'advertising' world perhaps? The old theories and the agency flab definitely. Get doing it absofriggingloutley! This is well worth watching if you can make the time. It has a nice mix of hatred for 'BDAs' (George Parker of Adscam), idealistic thinking about marketers being the saviour of the world (Steve Stainaker of Hub Culture), a perspective from an agency that really does do things differently (Johnny Vulkan of Anomaly) and a touch of 'cut through the crap' realism (Russell Davies of OIA).

First of all I don't believe that marketers could or should be contemplating changing the world. By all means go and work for a charity or a pressure group. Use your skills for something different with a higher purpose, but don't forget what clients pay us for if you work in an agency. I do believe every business should be socially responsible, but unless it's relevant and a central part of the brand, then we shouldn't be doing it just because it's fashionable, or because it allows us to feel better at dinner parties. I'd hate to see every agency and brand from soap to cars being cause related and purpose driven. As Russell says: 'leave changing the world up to revolutionaries and governments'.

Unless it's authentic, which is easier said than done, just concentrate on doing things better. I've said it before, it's not about 'BDAs' vs digital agencies it is just about tearing up the rule book and doing the right things, not just 'differently'. And despite the often gloomy outlook there are a lot of cracking agencies and people doing just that.

The second point from this is about cutting out the rubbish and deconstructing what it is we actually do. There isn't a Holy Grail that will make our lives simpler as much as we would like one. It will vary from agency to agency and discipline to discipline. We shouldn't be so hell bent on pigeon holing the industry. Terms such as advertising, marketing and brands have become meaningless. They are just used to generalise what we do so we don't really have to explain it, or god forbid go into more detail and risk being exposed as money grabbing charlatans. If you want to read a great book on how strange concepts and beliefs supplant rational thinking over time, then this is a great place to start.

I personally really love Anomaly's ethos. I can't for the life of me work out how they get clients to work within their fee structure, but they do, so fair play to them. But being in the business business just makes sense. It sums it up perfectly to me. Anomaly feels like independent, fluid, problem solvers that actually create stuff that's useful for businesses. I know it sounds quite vague, but that is the point, it is free to do what is right. I think it's the clearest way of describing the kind of agency that clients will find more and more attractive.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Only average people see the average in things

“Every tree and plant in the meadow seemed to be dancing, those which average eyes would see as fixed and still” - Jalal ad-Din Rumi

No one likes to think they’re average. But the fact of the matter is at least half of us are below average. Yes it’s true I’m afraid, averageness is all around us.

Now I think I’m quite a proud Englishman, despite the fact that we are generally average at everything in the modern world. Our culture is average, we’re average at sport, our economy is average, our service is average, our music is average, our weather is average and it would seem that even our creative industries are now seen as average. At least that’s how people generally think of it.

As a nation we seem to be a pessimistic bunch with such high expectations - God forbid should our great empire be considered average. I think we are way to hard on ourselves sometimes and perhaps a bit of optimism is in order. Just like this fantastic exhibition currently on at Tate Britain.

‘How we are: photographing Britain’ was an open exhibition that invited anyone to contribute photographs of Britain taken through their own lens so to speak.

It doesn’t necessarily celebrate our averageness, but embraces it and portrays Britain in its most unspoilt and often humbling way. Much of it is optimistic and endearing, looking for the interesting thing in an ordinary life or object. Such as these:

Enjoy the stormy weather


Leeds Leap

You can view all the entrants and winners here

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Mickey sounds like an arse!

Watch the ad here

I like to think I'm a bloke that knows. And in my opinion every bloke that knows, knows a bloke like Mickey and probably thinks he's a bit of a dick!

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Cringe alert

The BBC has shown off its understanding of youth culture and social media by creating a 'virtual desktop' for one of their teen characters in Eastenders. After all: 'Now Lucy's parents have read her diary she wants to put her thoughts somewhere they won't look - Online.'

I can't even begin to rationalise it because I have no idea what they were thinking of. It's bloody awful. At least they didn't try and do it on Facebook I suppose.

If you really want a laugh have a look at Lucy's videos.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Close but no cigar

When I heard about The Filter I thought it sounded fantastic. An application that integrates with your iTunes and iPod to creates your playlists for you.

Sounds like the answer to all my dreams. Particularly seeing as I'm on my third iPod in 18 months and I can't bothered to spend hours creating playlists if they give up the ghost halfway through the year. And for the record, I'm yet to meet a genius or be given an alcoholic drink to numb the pain at Apple's so called 'genius bar'.

Essentially The Filter allows you to pick a broad criteria to be analysed, such as by track or by genre. You then click on a track on your iTunes or you iPod, click on 'create playlist' and hey presto, it generates a play list of similar tracks directly into your library. The problem is they aren't that similar.

I'm off on my hols soon so I thought I would create a nice lazy, summery playlist. So I selected Jack Johnson and let it create a list of 30 similar songs from my 5,000 strong library.

It's a bloody good job I checked because there I would have been, chilling out, lying on my sunbed, dozing off, listening to a bit of JJ. When I would have been awoken by the dulcet tones of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones singing London's Calling.

To be honest I think it's because of the inaccurate tags iTunes puts on the tracks. Jose Gonzalez is alternative punk apparently. So until I can be arsed to go through and change the genres it won't get used I'm afraid. It's almost there though.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

What's your planning style?

I've only just come across this, but Leland posted this a while ago about the taxonomy of planners. Thanks to Adam for flagging it on the Plannersphere. I find stuff like this really interesting and I was particularly intrigued to see how I might fair doing the Myers-Briggs test. The Myers-Briggs test is used by Mckinsey to assess the cognitive processes of candidates.

According to Leland's description my hunch would be I'm somewhere in between 'emotional' and 'relationship acumen.' So after a brief search on zee veb, I managed to find this very rough version of a Carl Jung and Isabel Myers-Briggs personality test.

I came out, so to speak, as a ENFP

Strength of the preferences %
Extroverted 56
Intuitive 75
Feeling 25
Perceiving 11

This means I'm apparently...

- Moderately expressed extrovert
- Distinctively expressed intuitive personality
- Moderately expressed feeling personality
- Slightly expressed perceiving personality

I think it's actually scarily accurate. I agree that I am all of the amazing things it says I am ; ) It categorises me as a Champion Idealist. Which after reading makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This part being my favourite:

'This type is found in only about 3 percent of the general population (the top 3 or the bottom 3 I wonder?), but they have great influence because of their extraordinary impact on others. Champions are inclined to go everywhere and look into everything that has to do with the advance of good and the retreat of evil in the world. They can't bear to miss out on what is going on around them; they must experience, first hand, all the significant social events that affect our lives. And then they are eager to relate the stories they've uncovered, hoping to disclose the "truth" of people and issues, and to advocate causes.'

Friday, 10 August 2007

What can we learn from Duchamp?

Now I don’t know much about art. I’m interested in it, I appreciate it and I like what I like, but I don’t know what is good or bad. So apologies if this post screams of ignorance, but after reading this about Marcel Duchamp it got me thinking about the kind of art that those of us in communications are paid to produce and what we could learn from him. Duchamp had a really interesting perspective on art and it seems pretty relevant given the debate surrounding the future of planning, agencies and the general changes in modern marketing.

This post isn’t about commercial art versus art, or intended to suggest that visual art is dead. I simply found Duchamp’s perspective thought provoking. How’s that for sitting on the fence!

Whilst Duchamp eventually came to despise retinal art and the bourgeois, he started off by wanting to create a new kind of art that engaged the mind. Duchamp wondered if he could create works of art that were not conventionally works of art. This became known as conceptual art.

According to the Oxford English dictionary a concept is: “an idea of something formed mentally, combining all its characteristics or particulars.” This suggests to me that there are many different elements to the concept and not just visual and copy. Seems obvious and straightforward. So why the debate about who owns ideas?

In my agency, concepts are the things we review. No reason why it’s called this over creative it just is and always has been. I would argue that in a ‘traditional process’ quite often what is reviewed isn’t really a concept – at least not just yet. All the other ‘characteristics’ and ‘particulars’ haven’t been developed, such as the media for arguments sakes. It’s essentially just an idea at this stage. In other words a concept can’t be CREATED without varying perspectives and input.

Duchamp’s ‘Readymades’ are also something we can learn from. He purposefully aimed to break every rule in art in order to engage people’s minds in unpredictable ways so he could provoke the observer to participate and think rather than it just being aesthetic to the eye. And to top it off he believed in art that was free of pretence and artifice. He’s a clever bloke in my book.

However, probably one of the most interesting beliefs of Duchamp is that art occurs at the juncture of the artists’ intention and the observer’s response, ultimately making them a co-creator. If ever there is something that would unite people in agencies today and describe what we should all be striving for in communications this is it. Perhaps this is the art we should get more awards for?

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Dangerous Knowledge

I watched Dangerous Knowledge last night, an absolutely brilliant documentary on an increasingly good BBC Four. it's bound to be be repeated at least 20 times so keep your eyes peeled. It's planning porn and certainly stirs up a bit of quant v qual, positivist v naturalist debate.

Presenter David Malone took us on an insightful journey into the lives of four genius mathematicians - Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing. All of them managed to create a storm up back in the day by questioning whether or not there are somethings in the world mathematics cannot know and that there will always be problems outside of human logic. Some of their personal battles with unexplainable entities such as homosexuality, religion and social oppression arguably forced them to question their own beliefs and the concept of certainty.

Tragically these guys went insane and eventually killed themselves in their quest to prove a number of theories such as infinity. Essentially they were trying to use mathematics to prove the limitations of mathematics, logic to prove logic is illogical and when they continuously looked for certainty all they found was uncertainty. All sounds enough to screw any one's head up.

I've made the front page...

...of Marketing Direct

This magazine normally sits in the pile of things I'll flick through if I have the time and to be honest, I very rarely get to this one. But while I was having a sort out I caught sight of my name literally plastered all over the front page.

It's a great piece of personalised DM in my opinion and to be honest I agree with most of it. I am the best planner ever, I am cool and I should be Prime Minister. I'm not sure about loving Southampton though, only parts of it.

Monday, 6 August 2007

A campaign against warm beer

It's all got a bit political on here of late so I thought I would lighten the mood.

I was intending to post about this after coming back from the IoW Festival in June, but I completely forgot until I was in a pub this weekend. But for those of you who have been to festivals over the last couple of summers it's likely you would have experienced Carling's campaign against warm beer. At various festivals Carling has been operating a Beer Amnesty. You can take any brand of warm beer to its tent and swap it for a nice cold Carling - even Tesco's own value brand! Admittedly after three days drinking Carling it can get a bit too much but it's a great example of a brand being generous.

It also seems quite fashionable these days for brands to adopt some kind of environmental or political position. Some of which are genuine, but often they're too far detached from the product and people's relationship with it. They are merely token gestures. So it's nice to see Carling doing something small but massively relevant and helpful. There's not much worse than drinking warm beer. OK, maybe global warming.

Friday, 3 August 2007

A campaign for communications love

Why does everything in our industry have to be so black or white? You’re a planner, a creative, a media or an account person? You’re an ad agency, digital agency, media agency, PR or a communications agency? The future is bright? We're all going to die? Blah, blah, blah, boring, boring, boring.

I posted this yesterday in response to this and there seems to be loads of other posts recently such as this, this and this which the comments go on to argue who is essentially the best in 'advertising'. But I'm starting to get fed up with how insular, petty and finger pointing everything is getting - in the blogosphere at least. We all seem to be very good at talking about who has the right to do what and who deserves to be the most loved in the industry. Ahhh, helllloooo (insert camp hand gesture). What does the client want? Do they really give a rat's ass whether or not a creative, planner, account man or even a programmer came up with the bloody idea? If that is indeed what they think they buy from an agency anyway?

I'm worried that clients will just get sick of all the agency bollocks, inflated costs and go and bring it in house or hire consultants, creative communications thinkers or creative generalists, whatever you want to call them. Why shouldn't they if it's cheaper, quicker and arguably just as good? At least in their opinion, and to be honest that is what really matters? What's going to be left? All the thinking and even the doing will be done in house and agencies will be mere facilitators. You can see signs of it happening now. Don't quote me, but i'm sure Channel 4, ITV and Innocent have all brought disciplines in house if I recall. I've also just finished working on a pitch with a communications consultant that the client has hired to work with the agencies. He's been a nice guy, but it's a bit too prescriptive. The final outcome is essentially his idea - which has turned out OK, but not as good as it could have been if all disciplines could have collaborated and this isn't just my view.

I'm not suggesting that people like Russell and John would ever work with agencies in this way, but you can see it happening elsewhere. Why deal with the agency self appreciation society when you can work on your own interesting projects directly with brands? It's getting a bit, if you want something done, go and do it yourself. Do we really want to lose the best people to clients, irrespective of the discipline, because they can't get the job done? Is this really the world we want to live in? Then you find jobs like this going!

Again I'm probably being naive, drawing on my own short experiences and stating the obvious, but shouldn't we work in a way that allows us to simply get the job done and in my opinion enjoy doing it? I'm being petulant, but what do clients want/expect from agencies nowadays? Perhaps we should ask these questions rather than debating who deserves the crown of creative genius?

Stop War

Via Worstweatherever

I love this kind of stuff. Very Banksy.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Planners as the new creatives?

Oooh errrr missus here’s a long one…

This was a great debate at PSFK and whilst I appreciate this is purposefully controversial, I'm not sure whether the argument is really about planners being the new creatives. Perhaps it's more about challenging egos in order to find the best way for agencies to come up with new ideas? In another PSFK presentation Iain Tait spoke about why digital is better than advertising. Iain made some great points about the industrious nature of the discipline, the ability to fail small etc, but again it seemed to be more about the mindset of the modern agency versus the traditional advertising agency structure. I just think that if you were given a blank cheque to start your own agency tomorrow, irrespective of whether or not it's in digital, you wouldn't use the 'traditional advertising' structure. It's not that it doesn't work, but it doesn't work as well as it could.

I was lucky enough to get my first job in planning when the discipline was introduced to the agency only three years ago. At the time I was an account manager (that in my opinion tried to do a bit of planning) and I constantly hassled the Director to let me have one of the jobs going in the new team. Thankfully he eventually gave in. But being partly responsible for introducing planning to an agency that has done without it for 25 years was the single most difficult thing I have ever been involved in professionally. The benefit of introducing planning meant we had the opportunity to collectively review and implement a new structure. To be part of this is an invaluable experience!

Now I'm talking from an ‘integrated’ and purely personal perspective here, but my main observation was that the old agency model didn't just hinder the strategy and ideas we came up with, it was massively inefficient and actually cost the agency more money. Something that isn't actually debated much. And in the words of Pierre Reverdy: “Creativity is to think more efficiently”. So forget who owns ideas, just come up with the best ones and do it as quickly as possible. And to be honest, the working environment and culture isn’t anywhere near as good as it is now.

So we started from scratch and changed the whole approach, which is still being improved. It's frustrating, but it's hard to change this overnight. We’re lucky because we are independent and a bit leaner. But for a huge agency the thought of changing things must be like trying to turn a huge tanker round with a chubby little steering wheel the size of a 50 pence piece. It’s probably easier just to start again in some respects than to try and change an established beast of an agency. I can’t begin to imagine how hard that would be.

These are my own personal observations from where we were to where we are now and maybe I'm just being naive and stating the obvious, but here I go any way. First of all in terms of the ideas produced, very rarely was media approached creatively. It wasn't even part of the process and was simply the vehicle to carry the copy and the visuals. I think the reason why planners are being seen as more creative is because they are becoming very good generalists in terms of the media that is out there. In my opinion media is one of, if not the most important discipline at the moment and should be treated as a creative skill in the same way copy and visuals are.

I also think the relationship between brands, people and communications is the most complicated it has ever been and the old model is too restrictive when it comes to solving problems. Some people in the industry believe that clients should pay for ideas as the strategies end up transcending the entire business and changing its direction and often its fortunes? Some people also feel that agencies need to be much more involved with clients at a more strategic, business level rather than engaging with them just on image or on a transactional basis. Isn't this then about being better at solving business problems rather than ad problems? So again solving business problems should surely be treated as a creative discipline like copy and visuals?

In the same way I don't believe creatives own the ideas, I don't believe that planners should own the strategy. However, if I asked you to tell me who the most creative people in the advertising industry were you would name numerous creatives and deservedly so. But if I asked you who the most creative people in business were today I personally think they would be more like a planner than they would a creative. My point is perhaps as an industry we often define what creative means based on our own reality rather than our clients needs. And perhaps this is why ‘planners as the new creatives’ makes sense? Perhaps clients want business ideas rather than ad ideas? Maybe imaginative strategies and media are exciting them more than the copy and the visuals? Or maybe clients can relate to a planner’s take on an idea better than they can a creatives? People talk a lot about planners being the voice of the consumer, which I agree with, but to me a planner is also a bit like being the client, but without the pressure and much more time and freedom to ask questions, be objective and be brave?

And breath….