You want a mission, advertising? Here’s a mission for you…

I love the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA).  They run the amazing Excellence Diploma course, for instance, which awoke my brain in the fashion Morpheus might’ve in the Matrix, and made me really think about things.  They do a lot of great things, and help a lot of people and organisations learn.

But when I first heard of the “Creative Pioneers” mission to Silicon Valley and Hollywood, announced as part of Nicola Mendelsohn’s (otherwise greatly inspiring) inauguration speech, it made me wonder, well, why?  Then I forget all about it.  What got me thinking about it again was this tweet from Lee:

I’m sure there’s a fair bit of that sort of sentiment around.  I would encourage you to read all about their trip here, and the Campaign piece, and learn more about it.

Broadly, I think there’s two main goals:

i) send UK ad people to show them we could partner up and do great things
ii) they’ve done great things, so learn how we can use that stuff in our businesses

It’s the second thing I want to concentrate on.


A learning expedition

By learning how West Coast Tech companies work, spotting insights, getting inspiration, and bringing that back to affect real change throughout the entire ad industry in the UK, the group could play a fantastic role in rescuing the industry from itself.

Some folk would argue that it would be the same old token phrases (‘agile’, ‘prototype’ ‘pivot’) that they could learn from any slideshare presentation, but I would disagree; there is something wildly intangible about being in a place that works in a certain way, listening to the stories, getting a sense of what makes it different.

So that’s a good thing.  A great thing.  Learn how they work, bringing back a practical guide on how to mirror it.

There’s a good bit of evidence in this video from the end of the second day…


What’s not so helpful is that if people just learn what those companies sell


Being sold the dream

The biggest temptation is falling for the story as a product, and it being a product to buy… “Hey everyone, we want and saw Facebook and Google and Twitter, and their stuff is great and we should spend more on it…”

As an industry, we invest a lot in these platforms already, and it’s probably enough.   Especially if 61% of the UK don’t want to engage with big brands on social networks (TNS November 2011)

In spending increasingly more of the UK marketing budget with the US West Coast tech companies; it’s a massive plughole down which money pours, being washed and rinsed out in Ireland en route:

“More than 75 multinational tech firms have now established an international base in Dublin, including Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon and Intel, attracted by Ireland’s corporate tax (12.5%). By using accounting methods that see taxable profits routed through various European countries, companies can reduce their tax level to as little as 2.4% – though in the UK and US, corporate tax peaks at 28% and 35% respectively.”

The Guardian, December 2010

It helps those companies grown and expand in their home territories, innovate more, create more.

Sometimes, like with the Google investment in a tech research hub as part of Tech City, they put something back in.

Weirdly, I used to work in the building Google have leased for this, back in the earlier noughties… it was a market research agency, ironically.  We’ve stopped researching markets, and started researching tech…

But more often than not, all you have in the UK is a focussed sales team for the platform.  Which doesn’t help the UK come up with it’s own Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and so on.

But then again, as perhaps demonstrated in part by the mission to Silicon Valley, the UK ad industry is fairly hopeless at engaging and supporting the burgeoning UK tech industry.


South Coast UK, not West Coast USA

“We must reach out to other creative clusters – to the film industry in LA and the tech companies in Silicon Valley – to create new collaborations, and exchange ideas” – Nicola Mendalsohn

If the ad industry wants to reach out to clusters, they don’t need to jump on a plane to do it.

Until recently, two things were central to the way I worked; I was the innovation fella at PHD, and I lived in Brighton, which has one of the most interesting and talented tech-scenes in the UK…

…I hasten to add it’s I not just Brighton that’s interesting… lots of other towns and cities in between have vibrant scenes with brilliant people, it’s just I’m most familiar with Brighton… plus the internet means that geographical clusters are less relevant than before, surely…

So not only was I regularly exposed to lots of interesting and brilliant people, projects and companies, but a big part of my job was finding people like that, and bringing them in to talk to our teams, clients, partner agencies and so on.

And ninety-nine times out of a hundred, nothing would happen as a result.

It’s not anybody’s fault.  Everyone would realise the potential.  But because it wasn’t an established opportunity with a guaranteed audience, a clear way of making money from ad production or buying media, an easy way to buy that could be sold into a chain of command, nobody knew what to do with it.

Clients couldn’t buy it, ad agencies couldn’t make money from it, media agencies couldn’t guarantee numbers for doing it.

The advertising and media industry isn’t skilled or trained for different.  Save for the tireless efforts of the IPA and the poor, put-upon HR managers up and down agency land, everybody would be expected to learn on the job.  And all you ever learn on the job is how the guy before you did it.

Why is it important that we get better at working with the local tech talent in the UK?  Because it helps everyone eventually…


Buying British

You may have read Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent piece on Steve Jobs already, but I’d like to draw your attention to a core passage, one of the excellent Gladwellian jumps which transports you to a different place and time…

“One of the great puzzles of the industrial revolution is why it began in England. Why not France, or Germany? Many reasons have been offered. Britain had plentiful supplies of coal, for instance. It had a good patent system in place. It had relatively high labor costs, which encouraged the search for labor-saving innovations. In an article published earlier this year, however, the economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr focus on a different explanation: the role of Britain’s human-capital advantage—in particular, on a group they call “tweakers.”

They believe that Britain dominated the industrial revolution because it had a far larger population of skilled engineers and artisans than its competitors: resourceful and creative men who took the signature inventions of the industrial age and tweaked them—refined and perfected them, and made them work.”

Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker

I know from experience that the Britain of today is full of tweakers.  Maybe it’s the weather, it keeps people indoors longer and makes them wonder what would happen if you just attached this  to that.  Maybe that caricature of the great British eccentric inventor lives in all of us, and some people just let it out a bit more.

Because, despite what commonly held beliefs may tell you, we still make stuff.  Lots of stuff, and what’s more, complicated stuff…

The UK is the sixth largest manufacturer in the world by output and a leading exporter of high-tech goods. – via BBC

Yes, we’ve erred too far over to the ‘service economy’ malarky, but we are a highly skilled, experienced, creative and clever group of people.  Tech City wouldn’t be happening here if we weren’t.

It should be advertising’s mission in the country to support the British Tech scene, helping platforms, applications, companies and so on thrive and grow.  Because that’s what they do in the USA.


How Foursquare checked-in to NYC

I remember hearing about FourSquare in 2009, and trying for a large part of late 2009/early 2010 trying to get emails answered, phone calls picked up, a word in to say ‘would you like to try something over here’.

But they didn’t need the UK.  Because FourSquare, almost from the start, were supported by a curious, playful NYC advertising industry who grew the platform by risking a campaign here, an idea there, which helped fuel the platform.

They used New York as “a laboratory“, a petri-dish to grow an interesting (but by no means unique) idea into world-beating platform for companies, people and brands to play with.


For me, that’s the sort of mission that the IPA and advertising, media and digital agencies should be looking to undertake.



Ending with some starting thoughts…

I really think there’s a lot of things the IPA, and every agency in the UK, should be doing to engage the brilliant people we have working in technology in this country better, in order to create our own globally lauded equivalent of the West Coast Tech Giants.

This week of course is Internet Week across Europe, with lots of events happening that involve agencies in various different capacities.  Is it a big enough thing on the IPA/Agency radar yet?  Probably not, so how can that change for next year?

Digital Media and Design establishment Ravensbourne (where the IPA held a great event a few months back) are looking for more formal, long-term companies as partners – where better than to start talking to and working with the next generation.  There’s only so many English grads from Oxford one industry needs, after all.

Mr Ben Hammersley was today appointed as the Prime Minster’s envoy to Tech City.  Is there an IPA envoy, officially?  Should there be?  And what should they be tasked with doing that furthers Nicola’s Presidential agenda?

And finally, the IPA always concentrates on the agency members.  What about training and clinics for startups and tech pioneers – what agencies will expect, how to position something, who to talk to and so on.


That’s it, really.  I do hope the IPA mission come back and amaze us all with what they’ve now got that they can share and change the industry.

But, you know, perhaps everyone should look a bit closer to home first?

Massive thanks to HelenNeil for helping wrangle this thinking & post into shape.


Plumpton Mornings Update

I thought it was about time I wrote a Plumpton Mornings update…

A very quick reminder:

i) this is a project for charity, raising money for East Africa Famine Relief for UNICEF (so please read on)

ii) it’s one of 50 projects created in 50 days as part of 50 / 50 

iii) the aim is to raise at least £1 million across the fifty projects

iv) the basic premise was that I turn a digital, transient art project into permanent, physical artworks, which are then auctioned off

v) the source material would be the Plumpton Mornings series of photographs that I record every morning I cross the bridge at Plumpton Station to head to that London.  More on that HERE.


What’ve you been doing, slacker?

I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about this as a mechanic.  This was after I’d committed to it…

My problem wasn’t a shortage of different ways to execute from the wealth of material; indeed, the digital world did what it does very well, and supplies a very, very deep reservoir of photos, combinations, styles and so on.

My issue was this; what could I make from it that people will want, and actually sit at a device and bid for, and feel that they are not just getting a piece of art, but they’re part of a bigger thing.


But I hope, and am more convinced now Tim, Cath and Andrew at Made by Many have helped make it better, we have a really interesting idea…

It’s a Long Tail Twitter Art Auction.


Oh FFS.  That’s Barley-esque.

No, wait, bear with me… it’s good, I promise.  Or different, at least.  OK, I’ll set your expectations a bit lower; it’s not an entirely shit idea.


Here’s how it works.

1. You bid on twitter

I could do that.  Yes, you could – come the start of the auction, if you want to bid, you just need an amount (for instance, £5) and the hashtag (#pmbid).  You can write anything else alongside it.  For instance:

Then if you want to bid again, you do, and it just replaces your old bid, and you move up the pecking order.

This means you don’t all have to come to an auction room.  Result.  We don’t own an auction room.


2. Everyone who bids gets a piece of art

Hang on… everyone?  Yes, everyone.  Anyone who bids gets a hand-signed artwork, and  minimum bids start at £1.

This is where the long tail bit comes in… if 100 people bid, we’ll make 100 artworks.  If it’s 1000, we’ll make a 1000.  And so on.

You know how the long tail works, I don’t know why I’m telling you…


But wait up, why wouldn’t every just bid a pound?  Well, because the quality of the individual pieces varies…


3. Each piece is twice as good as the next piece

How do you mean?  I’m still developing the algorithm for this, but basically it’s this; the best artwork will be twice as good as the next artwork, which will be twice as good as the one after that, and so on.

Imagine the best work on offer at launch is a tetraptychs (four panels) on 12×12 canvas.

Here’s a squirrel tetraptych, which isn’t Plumpton Mornings, nor is it 12×12.


Anyway, say that tetraptych is the top piece (a Plumpton Mornings piece, not the squirrels).

The one under that would a diptych (two panels) on 12×12 canvas, under that would be one-piece 12×12 canvas, and then under that the execution would shift to be nominally ‘half as good’.

The only rule is that 20% of all money raised will go into one pot for the materials & delivery for the pieces, and all the rest will go to the charity.


4. Bid up for better stuff

As all the bidders are only in order of ranking by bid, it means that you’re never that far away from getting a much better piece.

For instance, let’s say Mel at BBH had bid £10.50, and next person along from her had bid £11.


By increasing her bid by a mere 51p, Mel would get something twice as good. as she would have for her £10.50.

Hang on… surely all this ‘individual competitiveness’ isn’t really that nice, or that social…?  What do we all get if we bid up?

Funny you should ask…

5. If you ALL bid up, you ALL get better stuff

Again, the algorithm for this is still being written and the costings worked out, but think of it like this; as you all bid, and increase the bids, the value of the fundraising pot, and the amount available for materials, will go up.

So we will set fundraising landmarks all the way through, so that when the landmarks are hit, more valuable pieces are unlocked at the top end, and everyone gets a better artwork.



So it’s not just in your interest to bid up, it’s in your interest for everyone to bid up, and to invite others to bid too, as then better pieces will be unlocked at the top, causing a cascade of better pieces all the way through.


It’s ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like a Blackpool beach penny pusher, where everyone is putting an extra penny in at the top to get a £5 out below.  I couldn’t make the analogy work at all.

But I thought I’d throw in a picture anyway…



OK, what do you want from me now?

Not a bid yet, because the guys at Made by Many are still working on the tech behind the auction.  We’ll hopefully be up in 2 weeks, and run it for ten days to see if we can’t get the majority of artworks out by Christmas (yes, I know… tight)

What I would love for you to do is read all this, read it again, and think of anything we’ve missed.  Let me know below in the comments.

Oh, and spread the word, if you would.  It’s for a very needy cause, and there’s a a long way to go.

And I shall go and pester the ace Rachel Coldicutt, who mentioned something about having a space to do something in a very exciting well known London art institution… that’d just be the icing on the cake.

Thanks everyone.


Douglas Rushkoff on Internet, Economies & Making

I’ve been trying to find a space to watch this for a while (thanks to Tom Miskin for the heads up), and found myself with a clear head and forty-five minutes this morning.

It’s Douglas Rushkoff speaking at Etsy’s Berlin event in September.

Watch live streaming video from etsy at


It’s really worth a watch, hugely thought provoking about many areas.  A lot of the ideas are from his book, ‘Program or be Programmed”, which I’ve just ordered too.

But even before the book arrives, I now have a whole new swathe of cards to add in to the gargantuan pile of ideas which my Gently Blogging project has become…

More Perfect Competition evidence from latest Mary Meeker roundup

The latest Mary Meeker goldmine of stats is out, which you can flick through here on Business Insider.  (HT @graemewood).

One chart in particular grabbed my attention:



It reminded me of the Perfect Competition stuff I wrote on feeding the puppy about two years back:

“The advances we are making are pushing us further towards ‘perfect competition’, which is increasingly making it hard for companies (especially retail ones) to generate the profits they used to.”

(full post here)

Perfect Competition has several key market characteristics that bring it about:

  • Infinite Buyers/Infinite Sellers – Infinite consumers with
    the willingness and ability to buy the product at a certain price,
    Infinite producers with the willingness and ability to supply the
    product at a certain price.
  • Zero Entry/Exit Barriers – It is relatively easy to enter or exit as a business in a perfectly competitive market.
  • Perfect Information – Prices and quality of products are assumed to be known to all consumers and producers.
  • Transactions are Costless – Buyers and sellers incur no costs in making an exchange.
  • Homogeneous Products – The characteristics of any given market good or service do not vary across suppliers.

In the retail space, the rise of the smartphone is rapidly bringing about a situation where perfect information is available about price & quality of goods in the retail environment…

So although smartphones alone will not bring about classic theoretical perfect competition (where no company is able to make any profit, just enough to keep them going…), it makes it a damn site harder to make decent profits.

So if you’re a retailer facing this problem, what might you do about it?

Play on the other factors, perhaps, and move them to your advantage.  Which strays into behavioural economics, which as always is no bad thing, but it naturally strays into some quite Machiavellian ideas, it seems… (five days being exposed to the cash-rinsing exercise that is Vegas was proof of that).

To wit; three mildly evil ideas for shop owners…

Decrease the feeling of “infinite sellers”

If you’ve got a shelf full of products, people are more likely to think “well, they’re still going to be selling them in half an hour, I can shop around”.  Keep just two of any product on a shelf, and as soon as one goes through a till, have backroom staff replace it when the customer has left.

Create some Exit Barriers

As people enter the store, hand them a voucher for free home delivery/5% off/free fitting (whatever is relevant) that only lasts 30 minutes, and states ‘only one voucher per customer per day’.  Suddenly if they walk across town to another store, the thirty minutes will have lapsed…

Only trade in limited editions

Homogeneity is your enemy; if your competitor offers the same product, here’s nothing to stop people shopping around.  So do whatever you can to make your products unique, individual, and only available on your floor.  Free gifts, special designs, signed editions… what’s the thing you’re offering that’s stopping the customer walking?


There’s lots more you can think about, of course, but the list of five perfect competition characteristics is a good place to start looking for inspiration.

If you’re mildly evil, that is.

Recommended Reading… new book from Yochai Benkler

I’m a huge fan of Yochai Benkler’s work… his previous book, The Wealth of Networks, greatly informed a lot of my preparatory thinking for The Communis Manifesto, and now I’ve just started his new book, The Penguin and the Leviathan

Already the first few chapters make me think it’s a vital companion piece to Cognitive Surplus, plus it’s much easier going than Wealth of Networks too (which was probably more geared to an economics audience).

Anyway, here’s a link to the book (through the Amazon Associates program, a splendid example of cooperation in action):

The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest


The Art of Gently Blogging

I’ve always tried to approach blogging with as little pre-formed intent as possible… stumble across something interesting, expand, refine, hit publish and see what happens.

But after Laptops and Looms, I couldn’t quite contain all of the stuff I wanted to expand on in my head, never mind one blog post.

(If you want to fall down the Laptops & Looms rabbit-hole, Adrian’s post is not a bad place to start).

Anyway, what helped me organise things a little more was using the artefact cards (details here, signup here) just to write out and link things together…

There’s stuff about the division of craft and human creativity from manufacturing, where that energy went, how digital let’s people put that energy BACK in in different ways, how some sectors (often alcohol manufacturers like Real Ale or Scotch Whisky) are very good at telling the story of that, how governments incentivise small-scale production in those sectors which they fail to do, where The Labour Theory of Value fits in to this, how it changes the purpose and point of the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, NOT Indis Pale Ale in this case), and the changing forces of knowledge work around storytelling, disrupting established agency models, then into unpicking the ‘social’ makeup of brands and companies from an anthropologically inspired breakdown of archaeology, linguistics, cultural and societal…

I could go on.

But just looking at this lot made me realise that, whilst I could just crack on and whittle the odd post here and there on the bits that interest me periodically, I thought I’d try something new, which I’m referring to as Gently Blogging.

NOT because of it’s a very passive, relaxing way to do it, but because of course of Dirk Gently, the Douglas Adams Character…. from the Wikipedia entry:

Dirk bills himself as a “holistic detective” who makes use of “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things” to solve the whole crime, and find the whole person.  This involves running up large expense accounts and then claiming that every item (such as needing to go to a tropical beach in the Bahamas for three weeks) was, due to this “interconnectedness,” actually a vital part of the investigation. Challenged on this point in the first novel, he claims that he cannot be considered to have ripped anybody off, because none of his clients have paid him yet. 

Gently has an odd facility for accurate assumptions, as every wild guess he makes turns out to be true. As a student he attempted to acquire money by selling exam papers for the upcoming tests. His fellow undergraduates were convinced that he had produced the papers under hypnosis, whereas in reality he had simply studied previous papers and determined potential patterns in questions. However, while innocent, he was arrested and sent to prison when his papers turned out to be exactly the same as the real ones, to the very comma.
You get the point, I think.

It’s about the interconnectedness of all the things I have on these cards, how small changes in one area can influence, and hopefully improve, things in another.

Exactly what form Gently Blogging takes will be interesting, but I think it’s make something like the physics diagram you saw when you were thirteen… rather than expanding ideas in series, it’s about expanding them in parallel…

I also haven’t decided whether to do it live from scratch, and advance each piece in the open, rewriting as comments and debates happen, or to get each piece to a suitable minimum standard, then do that.  TBC, I guess.

Anyway, I guess that’s the art of Gently Blogging.  I’m off to Vegas now to judging the innovation section for the LIA Awards.  This is entirely connected to current investigations.

Follow some random Elvis side project shenanigans here, if you like.