Friday, 30 October 2009

My Entry To Campbell Lace Beta's Blog Competition...

By now, you might have seen this.

Here's the backstory as to how such craziness came about:

The Campbell Lace Beta blog (via Campaign Live) are running a competition this month:
to get things going again and to celebrate our good fortune so far we're going to give a prize of £1000 to the most interesting, amusing, useful, useless, outrageous comment posted on our blog during the month of October.
It took me weeks to work out a response - and all the time, the cool entries started piling up - make sure you hit the threads from October and check them out, especially Lolly & Nat's and the Downfall parody. In fact, I only settled on my idea last night, and a bit of a rush it's been getting it executed. Strangely enough, it all stemmed from Garry and Robert themselves - they're figures of mystery; and despite it's transparency, the agency is to. How did it come about? What was it like, before Campbell Lace Beta. This alternate history is obvious not the answer, and it's a bit rough round the edges, but it's good for a laugh.

And if you liked it, maybe it's good for a vote too :)

***BONUS EASTER EGG*** - Now you too can colour in your very own poorly-drawn Garry Lace!

Full printable A4 here :D

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

TMWTB: How To Think

Congratulations, Will! Winner of the first "Tell Me What To Blog", Will (curator of Confessions Of A Wannabe Advertising Man and the formidable Adgrads) asked a real doozy:

James, how do you think laterally? I want you to describe your thought process, and the feeling you have when you think you've cracked it. What does it feel like? 
Well yeah, how can I not fall for a bait question like "How does you mind work"? But also, it's a question the industry wrestles with like no other. Creativity and cracking things cause all manner of hand-wringing and sweating to occur. How can we justify our ideas when we don’t necessarily know where they come from? Here are a few thoughts on the subject.

1.       1. Thought is ruled by the dogma of linearity. We talk about thought processes and a train of thought, both of which imply one start point, one end point, and definite path between the two. Enlightened people dismiss this as hogwash, of course – one can and must have many thoughts because casting the net wide will catch the odd-looking fish.

2.      2. Here’s the danger – these same enlightened people can get caught in linearity, simply by assuming they’re ‘aware’. Knowing about the dangers of linear thought doesn’t inherently keep you away from it; it just helps you think linearly in more directions. The brain is fundamentally a machine, and if we live in a mechanistic universe (as we might) then we’re no better than this:

A member of the House of Lords once famously asked Charles Babbage, inventor of the Difference Engine,
"Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine the wrong figures, will the right answers come out?"
Clue: the answer is no. Modern computer programmers refer to this concept as “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. The brain, if left to its own devices, will do what it logically can with whatever its given, processed via experience. You know the old saying: If you have a hammer, every problem looks like a walnut. Or something.

3.     3. So it’s utterly impossible to have thoughts outside the obvious – unless you employ outside intervention. This means one of two things:
a.       Restructure your brain to think along lines so different from others that it is misinterpreted as original. This is how creative teams often work, exposing themselves to so much mess and creativity that they cannot help but try to think along subversive lines. However, these are still lines, and the power of the lines is in evidence whenever we see a slew of similarly wacky ads. What’s more, these processes can still lead you down familiar paths – particularly such greats as, “hmm. I wonder what visual pun we could make out of this one?”
b.      Trick your mind into going in another direction. This is where you encounter a problem and all your standard modes of thought and experience begin to work, then – BAM! – something comes along to interrupt that pattern. Appropriately enough, in neuro-linguistic programming it’s called a pattern interrupt. People use such interrupts all the time, and everyone’s got their own set. There are many ‘professional’ ones that can be found in, say, De Bono. Six Hats stuff is just a way of ‘forcing’ you into a mode of thought you wouldn’t logically consider. So is a decent creative brief – for that matter, a good creative brief template can be just as powerful at guiding you to the heart of a problem.

4.    4. Let’s extend this idea. Deliberate interruption is everywhere. Brainstorms are at their best when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Why do we not just ask each person to send in their ideas? It’s not for the free biscuits. It’s because brainstorms constitute collaborative interruption. The ideas that win the day are not formed in isolation, they’re caused by “what visual pun could we use?” man colliding with Mrs. “I want to use inflatables” via the “what’s the most offensive thing we could do?” guy. Voila, Birds’ Eye is sponsored by a giant floating willy, and a great idea is born.
5.      Above this, the very existence of ad agencies owes itself in part to clients realising that if they only used their own thought processes, their communications would be very predictable indeed. So they realise it.

5.  In the final analysis, lateral thinking is all about outsourcing – it’s about arranging to have leaves on the line of the train of thought, ready to derail you into unfamiliar territory where the problem might just unravel. Maybe comms isn’t the answer – blasphemy in a comms agency. But the fact that arriving at a solution can feel as terrifying as it does uplifting, means you’re probably on the right track.

Well, one of them.

There you go, Will! Hope that’s satisfied you – though I’ve no doubt that there are many, many different answers out there. Has anyone else got any tricks for deliberately throwing themselves of the linear-thought path? I’d love to share them.

Look out for info on when to submit your new “Tell me what to Blog” questions. The stranger the better, please...

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Oh, behave

So, have you heard of this thing? This new thing? Behavioural Economics, they call it. Because up until now, economics wasn't really concerned with human behaviour.
Did you think that was a joke? I'm afraid it wasn't. I wasn't there, but I'm told that for the last - well, ever - economics has run on the principle of Rational Man, that is to say that any person will, without fail, use rational judgement to maximise gains and minimise costs. As in, nobody ever eats fast food because the temporary pleasure isn't worth the health costs.


So Behavioural Economics seeks to  redress such an imbalance by identifying the biases and subliminal forces that take us down paths without even realising it. Stuff like self-interest, rules of thumb, wanting to be like everyone else, are far more powerful than we'd like to admit.

Poster people for this are two clever people called Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, who penned a book called nudge. Buy a copy or better, grab one from the desk of the planner nearest you. A nice book about how to make people save for their retirement, become organ donors, not pee on the floor in public toilets, that sort of thing. 
Then ad-people picked it up, and what began as an innocent treatise on social policy is being waved about in the air like a boy who's found Daddy's hunting rifle.

So it was with trepidation that I found myself at the RSA for the IPA's inaugural Behavioural Economics event. It was pleasantly awesome - Rory gave his traditionally gigglesome verbal cabaret, but the best talk by far was an impassioned speech from Nick Southgate, Planning Director at Grey. I won't divulge his content but there were plenty of moments that had people whispering and pencilling furiously - and even laughing. At times, something of a nervous "I should've known that" laughter.

But then, the theme of the event - and the discipline of Behavioural Economics - is to make us wake to things we'd previous relegated to the 'common sense' drawer, a pseudonym for 'things we should know, or should know better'.

Other people have talked about B.E. better than I, but here's my take on the new questions the day raised.

-BE states that liminal communication is something of a blunt instrument. If your choice architecture is well-formed (such as in any good form), communication doesn't necessarily get that much of a look-in. And yet our profession is supposed to be as communicators. The scary fact is that the IPA meeting today was almost a panic response - a crash course in nudging. Because it's been around for a while, and has been invented not by us, but by sociologists, psychologists, and more adventurous policy formers. Not us. So in meeting and reading up, we are taking the view that we can basically co-opt this idea, and use it ourselves.

-But if we want to do so, we need to get clients to allow us to mess with the architecture of the 'building', not just paint it in the most appropriate colours and put up persuasive signage. Why should they let us? We'll need to do two things.
One: Gain a hell of a lot of expertise, and rediscover what we had in a B.E. context. We've done some of this before. How does it fit with the theory. And how might the theory create better behaviour change.
Two: Reposition ourselves. Doing this stuff means getting involved with NPD, logistics, service standards, company codes of practice...lots of shit that we're usually not allowed near. So we need to extend our remit. As communicators, the offering is "we'll work out what you need to say to make people like you, and then they might buy your product". We must become sales agencies. As salesmen, the offering is different: "we'll work out what you need to do to sell. If saying some stuff is necessary we'll work out what that is, but it's by no means guaranteed".

This is a huge task. But if an agency were to pull it off, marketing  might become a very big beast indeed.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Twitter and Protestant Militanism

In which we draw parallels between medieval society and twitter's new 'mob mentality'.

Last Saturday saw me in Hailsham for their annual Bonfire Night. "But James," you protest, "Bonfire Night is on the fifth of November. Don't you remember, remember?" 
While that was a very witty thing of you to say, you are in fact wrong here. For reasons best known to the people who live there, Sussex is absolutely mad on Bonfire. So much so that the county's 30 different Bonfire Societies try and have their 'celebrations' on different nights so as to be able to all go to each others'.

They're also very fond of things like this:

It's a giant burning banner, roughly the size of a bus. In case you can't read the letter, they say "lest we forget". Also, there are large wooden doves on either side, and yes that one looks like it's on fire. And of course, this was in the context of screaming, cheering crowds, a parade of thousands of torchbearers dressed as victorians, cowboys, punk rockers etc - and all finished off by a beautiful firework display. Bakhtin called this sort of thing the carnivalesque; social situations where we can collectively run wild and relieve social pressure.
What's interesting about all this stuff is that with the collective sorrow comes a strong sense of triumphalism - hence the fireworks.

In the last six months, twitter has been hailed as the champion, the emblem of, the facilitator of collective action to create social justice. In certain high profile cases, rightly so - god knows the people of, say, Iran don't get enough chance to speak on an unfiltered channel, and giving people an easy way to echo has to be a good thing. However, we're not considering is what the individual might be getting out of the echo. With the agony of a Trafigura comes the ecstasy of collective rage - and with that, the glory of collective victory. But when the pursuit of this same carnivalesque triumphalism overtakes a realistic sense of appropriate justice being done, you get problems. In fact, you get what's often referred to as a mob mentality. A mob, fuelled by relative anonymity.

Now don't get me wrong: Jan Moir has written an extremely distasteful article, Trafigura are very naughty indeed, that TfL staff member was thoroughly nasty to an old man. But it's worrying that both of the linked instances have led to sackings within a day. It's as though the twittering classes are looking to right all that's wrong with the world, one head on a pike at a time. There are many that deserve this treatment. But as communication gets faster and faster, it might take a simple misunderstanding to teach us when it can be too fast:

It can happen. And just like an American with "NO PUBLIC OPTION" scrawled on a placard is trying to communicate a slew of legitimate and intense personal fears that need addressing, every scandal - especially the ones that involve sackings and changing the law - can't have its subtleties expressed in 140 characters.

RT means Me Too.

Remember, Remember.

Friday, 16 October 2009

This is how it'll be

Hey! Welcome to this brand new thing. It's not that new, not really. I've thought about it for ages, but it didn't have a name 'til recently. Let me try and explain what's going to happen here.

What is planning, really? Technically, John Steel describes it as being the voice of the consumer. That's nice, and it's definitely a way to make you feel good about your job. Sneaky suits hoodwink the client, crafty creatives deceive the public but we, the proud planners, empower the people. Yeah, I've been reading Beowulf.
Other departments see you as client fluffers, doing a job that other people should be doing - that might be true.
Meanwhile, heads of planning will consistently tell graduates and others who want to break into planning that their job is to be interesting, and interesting.
And if the blogosphere is to be believed, the role of planner mixes dataphile with future-casting, some (very commendable) Big Thinking, and maybe a bit of poking about with the entrails of a focus group.

All a bit confusing, especially for a youngster. Does planning come from within, or without? I don't know. What I am sure of is that we don't spend enough time commemorating all the extra bits that make planning happen.
You know, all the stuff in the world!

+1 isn't the theory behind everything. It isn't the buzzword created to make an idea more palatable to colleagues and clients. And it definitely isn't the 'insight'. +1 is you, and me, and our individual ways of looking at things. And +1 is those things themselves: strange experiences, things in the news, chance encounters at a bus stop (and yes, the 'internet sensation' People Of The Now is coming back). 
If things work out the way they're supposed to, planning plus one will be a shoebox of all the fun stuff that makes planning happen - and not the theory. Well, not a lot.

So here's the deal:
-because interesting stuff happens all the time, the page is gonna be updated on an fairly unpredictable basis. Same as most blogs then, but I thought I'd make it clear.
-however, because writing is nice, I'm going to promise that a bit of unpredictable, well-written, decent writing comes up every other Tuesday. I have some ideas about this, but I'm looking for suggestions too.
-this isn't just for planners. In fact, if this makes one see planning as a little less weird and out there, I'll call this a job well done.

This is going to be really really awesome, I promise. More stuff will appear over the week, but the first big step is for someone to tell me what to investigate/think about/write about for Tuesday 27th October. This is a challenge to anyone who reads this: tell me what to do.

Winner gets kudos, and their burning question answered.