Seven ways to judge “The New”

As anyone would be, I was delighted to be invited to judge “The New” category by Faris, the jury president, and the organisers at the London International Awards.  That it was over in Las Vegas was just a bonus.

The jury was completed by Chloe Gottlieb of R/GA, Ben Richards of Ogilvy, and Anthony Nelson of Draft FCB…

Thing was, of course, “The New” a necessarily tricksy category to know what we were meant to be judging.

Nothing’s really new.  It’s all just the endless recombination of existing things, as Faris has been pointing out for as long as I can remember.

Yet within that, we felt a celebration of the new ways in which the industry puts things together for the clients who come knocking.

(Not that I feel particularly “industry” anymore, but that didn’t matter… it was a category for work that shouldn’t really fit in properly anywhere else, judged by people who didn’t really fit in anywhere else either.)

Between us, we hacked together some criteria so we could at least have something to point to in order to back up some gut feel judgements on the work we were seeing.

I thought it’d be nice to share that here…

New Ways….

…to tell a better story

Agencies, in their most classic of forms, are storytellers… weaving a narrative around the products and services of the clients who engage them.  I touched a bit on this, and the changing nature of it, in the Story Quarry thing a week or so.

There’s still a lot of great craft skills around this in the industry, an it was great to see some interesting and diverse ways of telling stories.

It does perhaps feel in the cold light of today that the storytelling art was just a great executional way of doing that thing agencies perhaps had an older, better role in… solving problems.  Storytelling is one tool in the box, but it’s not alone.

…to connect with people

But whether it’s storytelling or problem solving, the fundamental point of the industry is to connect people and companies.  I’m really keen on focussing more on the people/companies route (given all the Communis thinking), and I MAY have mentioned that a little…  🙂

And although there were some interesting examples we saw of doing it at a brand level, there was nothing really outstanding to convince me that “brand” is a long term answer to the community-connection issue… it needs to be about ‘people’.

You’ll always run into the problem that it makes no sense for “a collection of perceptions in the consumer’s head” (Feldwick) to know when your birthday is or what your favourite band is.

A person to person relationship is of course the best way to help with the next area…

…to change behaviour

It always sounds a little machiavellian, “changing behaviour”.  But within advertising land, it’s always been the holy grail; how can we get people doing something, or more of something, or less of something, that they weren’t doing before.

It was refreshing to see creativity deployed in the majority for doing something good… I think the idea that brands have to be nicer and more transparent than before is getting through all over the world, there was a generosity of spirit in a lot of excellent work.

It reminded me of this Benkler quote from The Penguin and the Leviathan –

And in a lot of cases (and indeed the best cases), they went beyond thinking of changing behaviour on a small level, instead creating ways…

…to change society

I’m more convinced today than ever than companies should have a significant and positive role to play in society; if it is the continuation of this form of economic and societal structure that they wish to preserve and evolve, then they must commit to doing so in more creative and generous ways.

We talked around the notion of the necessary extinction of CSR as a faddish sideshow in a company’s corporate system of beliefs; you should make EVERYTHING you do good, rather than excising a small percentage of the budget to “do good things”, and then negating that with the rest of your budget.

For instance, you may remember the US Dept. of Agriculture case from last year, where a government organisation helped Dominoes develop a range of pizzas with 40% MORE cheese, whilst simultaneously campaigning on an anti-obesity drive to stop people eating as much cheese…

Helping clients navigate flawed decision-making like this is important for agencies too, if they are to help…

…to (re)build business

There’s no doubt that given the change in how the world communicates, there’s never been a more pressing need for businesses to be reinvented, or new ones to be created.

Not only did we see lots of agencies who had helped their clients reinvent aspects or entire elements of how they did business, and made money from it, there was also the first nascent evidence of agencies creating new platforms and business streams themselves, and even freeing them up to wider audience who can create more stuff with them.

It’s a good thing to see, especially in response to Murat’s question of Can The Next Instagram/Hipstamatic/Klout/Angry Birds Be Born Within An Agency?

Which leads us nicely into…

…to find new agency roles

A lot of the work brought to our attention just how damned hard it is to get away really, really great things with clients… we looked on in awe at some of the projects steered through difficult client silos and structures by agencies.

After I chaired the Future of Agency debate last week at Google’s Think Marketing, I think it’s inevitable that agencies will have to keep pushing and changing at the model in order to build a future for themselves.  Whether the big agency groups have anything to gain in the short-term by doing so, and will therefore manage, is something i remain to be convinced by.

I’m sure that this debate will be moved on a quantum leap at Google/Neil Perkin’s next Firestarters event this week.

…to build a better future

Well, why not finish with the biggy?

In all seriousness, there was a spirit running through the very best work we saw which gave us renewed belief in an industry that can actually do something amazing for the world, rather than simply default to the “let’s just do the same old thing…”

What is interesting is what it takes to get that done.  We developed a wee acronym at the end of the final day, just to try and sum up what it might take to get this sort of work done:

The nerve to actually suggest and push at the idea, the eureka genius of the idea itself, and the will to push and shove, kicking and screaming, all the way through execution.

What do you think?  Does it capture what the spirit of “The New” would be for you?

As always, would love to hear your thoughts…
This post is half of a blog diptych; if you dare, head over here to meet its dusk-loving, malevolent twin….

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.

Digital Storytelling, Statues and Strata

Next week, I’m delighted to be doing some panel-wrangling at the annual Google Think Marketing event.

The title of the day is “Become a Digital Storyteller”, and before the illustrious panel members talk about how their different types of agencies are getting to grips with that, I’ve got to set the scene a little.  Here’s where I’m at

After a great chat with Shuvo at Google earlier, I’ve been mulling through what it is about storytelling that’s changed, from an agency perspective.  As my thinking usually improves (however minutely) by writing things out on here, so let’s see if it can help again…

I wonder if the answer lies in every company’s story quarry:

A story quarry is where companies have sent their agencies over the years to dig out interesting things about said company to turn into a story to use in marketing.

And by and large, for all sorts of reasons (mass media model, domination of television, etc etc), the agencies would go and find the biggest, chunkiest big of marble they could.

They dismissed and ignored anything in a story quarry that wasn’t large enough and solid enough for them to work with.

Why?  Because they were after something with which to make big, impressive, inspiring works of art.  They wanted to sculpt statues that people would gaze upon in wonder, and feel things inside they themselves did not understand…

But you can only make that big, impressive stuff with big, impressive chunks of marble from a story quarry.  All the rest of the stuff (the insights that didn’t apply to everyone, the innovations that would only apply to a few, the stuff that was interesting only to particular niches) was ignored by big, traditional storytellers.

But the thing about a story quarry is that it’s made up of interesting layers, formed as a company grows over the years.

The strata (as such layers are called in geology, according to my friend and yours Wikipedia) are comprised of all the things a company and its people have gotten up to over the years.

I wonder if the art of digital storytelling means good storytellers are much more willing to dig around in this stuff, because they know that they can find interesting bits and bobs that they can use at a scale that makes economic sense to do so.

Maybe we’re back to the trouble with BIG again, I guess.  The thing the agency world is still fixated on.

But you know, big isn’t all that.  If you haven’t done so (and that begs the question WHY), go and read Gareth Kay’s stuff on thinking small.

And story quarries are full of interesting, small things that great digital storytellers go and dig around for, pull out, and use.  It might be as practical as a bag of sand for weighing something down, or as beautiful as a diamond for showing someone how much you love them.

Maybe this is right, I’m not sure myself yet, but it certainly feels like a nice, daft way to open a panel debate.  It’s perhaps just another way of saying that the biggest problem that some agencies have is they don’t want to get their hands dirty digging around in a story quarry…


a note on the cards:

I’ve been using these blank playing cards a lot recently, for workshops, organising thinking, telling stories, prototyping and so on.  

Indeed, the cards themselves are a prototype, very clean, white, in a lovely box from Moo.

If I find it’s really useful over a meaningful period of time, I’m planning to make some proper sets and sell them as a Smithery product, along with some ideas on how to use them.  

If you want to be kept in the loop on that, sign up here.

The idea came from the excellent new Dave Gray book “Gamestorming” in which he talks about artefacts: 

“In knowledge work, an artefact is any tangible, portable object that holds information.  An artefact can be anything from a piece of paper to a sticky note to an index card.  Artefacts make it easier to keep track of information by making it part of the environment”

I’ve found that by using blank playing cards and fine-tip sharpies, in creating artefacts you somehow feel duty-bound to give it more thought before committing an idea, and you’re more likely to write or draw with more intent and care.  They’ve also got more of a permanence about them, so you move and shuffle them around more deliberately.

a note on artefact/artifact:

It’s fine, you can spell it either way, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise


Brands are people, people are brands #159 – Nero Stars

Now, I can’t remember exactly when I signed up for this, but I think it was last Winter… oh, actually, around the same time as I wrote this post on it, maybe…

Yes, anyway, Caffé Nero sent me a letter, a poker-chip style token, and a couple of vouchers for free coffees. The deal? They wanted me to give the token to a ‘Nero Star’… a barista in their stores who was going above and beyond the call of duty.


It’s a lovely idea, I really like it. It creates a bond between customer and your staff that wouldn’t normally be there. And, actually, having that token nagging away in my pocket has probably made me think more about going to Caffé Nero over the last month as a result. Everyone wins, I think.

Anyway, I’ve given mine to the whole team that work here, in the lonely little booth at the far end of Victoria.


It’s the Siberia of the Nero empire. And yet they are always, without fail, lovely, charming and smiley.

Thanks, guys.

BMW; back in the film business, but now in the future business

Years ago (in the early noughties), BMW made some films.  They were great, lavish, statement making films.  They had Clive Owen in them.  They had freakin’ Madonna in them.



They told you this:  BMWs are for driving fast, looking amazing, living dangerously.


Especially if you were an insurance salesman in the home counties.


Looking back, it’s easy to see how the mental picture of the BMW driver was a gregarious, suited, loudmouthed wanker… it was all about the badge, that shiny BMW medal of belonging for Kevin and Justin and the golf club mafia.


Now, BMW are back in the film business.  But in a wonderfully different way…


A series of four films based around “The Future of Mobility”; a look to the future where we need to create a sustainable lifestyle for the human race.  They’ll all be released this month, and first is up here now




That guy?  That’s Buzz Aldrin.  Yes, the second man on the moon.  “You get where you wanna go, when you wanna go, with the least fuss… that’s what we need”.  Doesn’t sound like the message Kevin & Justin would bandy around the 19th hole.


It’s well worth a watch.


What’s beautiful about the films, and the idea, is that you get a sense of BMW as a group, a movement, an ideology… not because it’s chock-a-block full of BMW people (it isn’t), but because this is the kind of statement they want to make about themselves to the world.


And the thing about an ideology is that it can last forever, and transcend whatever it is you physically make or do as a company in any one era.  It’s probably as much of a message internally to BMW as it is externally for us.


In 1975, Theodore Levitt said this of marketers:


“To survive, they themselves will have to plot the obsolescence of what now produces their livelihood”


I guess “The Future of Mobility” feels like a future for BMW too… now let’s see what actions they use to back up the words.

George Lucas Sells Adidas, Volkswagen, PC World… and your childhood down the river

Oh George.  What are you doing.


Sure, the Adidas thing was exciting at first… 


…but the ad was largely forgotten in the trail of Nike’s Write The Future, and the shoes were kinda rubbish in the end.





Then there was the PC World thing.


God, really?


Look, here’s C3P0 bending over for the advertising buck… 






And now, there’s an VW ad.




OK, it’s kinda funny.  And in isolation, maybe any one of these would be fine.


But you know, where’s it going to stop?


How many ads will feature Star Wars characters, themes, remixes.  Is it the default, lazy creative hook up for exciting a generation who’re now driving cars and raising families?


I have a theory.


George Lucas hates Star Wars.  It’s ruined his life.  He had the potential to be a respected director, making a series of interesting, different films.  But people kept making him do the kids films.


Then told him that was all he was good at.


THEN told him that actually, when he tried to make more, he wasn’t any good at them after all, and the first ones were a fluke or something.


So George has decided to take his ball away.


We ruined his life for Star Wars, and now he’s going to ruin Star Wars for us.


He’s fucking ruining it for me, that’s for sure.

Passion and Scale – getting “participation” right

Off the back of the Verb, Reverb and Amplify post from before Christmas, we’ve been doing some work projects on what this means for participation; we’ve a whole host of brilliants clients & brands that have done participation and done it pretty well…


…although as always, you’re never sure who did it, you or the community who started, kept and spread the participation.  That’s another story though.


This is more about two things; passion and scale.


Passion is what fuels participation; a central group will be hugely involved and collaborative, and others who see it are drawn to join in if it’s


a) simple to do so
b) they feel there’s encouragement to join in
c)  it’s something they’re pretty interested in



You know all this, I’ll move on.


The thing is about passion is that it disperses the bigger the group gets.  Be it a function of the Dunbar Number or whatever, it’s just really hard to do participation on any sort of massive scale.


Which is probably what makes it really hard for companies & agencies who’re used to dealing at the scale that advertising delivers to work through how they become ‘participative’ in their marketing.


Too often, perhaps, the answer reached is “to make this participative activity a success, we must set a really high target for the number of people who participate”.


Which I think is the wrong approach.


Let’s go back to this idea of Verb, Reverb and Amplify.  Rolling in the idea of participation & scale


i) VERB – what you do with people; the participation

ii) REVERB – the natural resonance that creates in social spaces; usually small, usually fast decayingiii) AMPLIFY – the way you tell the story of the what you have done together at scale; ‘advertising’, for instance





As a working model, it’s interesting as a principle.


It helps prioritise an order for doing things.


It builds in a realistic view of what’s possible, by highlighting that the natural reverberation of social spaces isn’t huge.


Which means it lets you build up more realistic targets for success.


And it gives a clear role for the more traditional media spaces of still potent tools like television (the debate about how long it remains potent is again, one for another day).


The thing I find most interesting about it though is this; for anyone who comes into contact with it at any stage, it can feel participative.


Yet it’s not reliant on mass participation to feel like a success.  It’s reliant on you being able to scale it in the right way, to tell an entertaining story about the things you’ve done with people in a compelling way.


Entertainment is central to this; the recent globalwebindex survey showed that for 66% of 16-24s, the prime motivation to engage with brands was for entertainment.  The good thing about entertaining things is that if they like them, people share them.  That’s what you were after, wasn’t it, people to share your message.


Why do the share them?  Well, finally, I think Bilal Jaffery hit the nail on the head with this…


“If I tell my friends about your brand, it’s not because I like your brand, but rather because I like my friends.”


So there you go; participation, scale, entertainment & sharing.  A rough model, granted, but we’re finding it kinda useful.

[PT] – “The Promoted Tweet”

As reported here in The Guardian, the latest OFT crackdown wants celebrities to reveal if they’re being paid to tweet about brands and products.




Which is, you know, fair enough I reckon.


And I don’t think people are daft enough to think that in the modern age of celebrity, it hasn’t been going on anyway.


But with only 140 characters to play with, it’s going to be pretty hard for people to add in a full statement along the lines of “This tweet was sponsored by The National Geographic Society”…


…so what I suspect we’ll see is some form of user-created shorthand for ‘promoted or paid-for tweets’, perhaps something like:




It’ll be short, clean and clear enough to be included at the end of a message.


Crucially, it won’t be something controlled centrally by twitter (which would be an unmanageable task), but a common practice that emerges from the PR & social ends of the industry.


What’ll be most interesting, if it happens, is seeing just how many tweets in the stream start to feature [PT] or equivalent… or do celebrities really just tweet about stuff because they like it…?

Brands are people, people are brands



Increasingly the lines are being blurred between ‘brands’ and the ‘community’ of people who work together to make and do the things that company makes and does.

Where does brand stop and community start? Lush, who’ve always made a big thing on pack of the people who work there, are taking an interesting step to show that it’s not ‘a marketing gimmick’.

Although, arguably, is this now MORE of a marketing gimmick than the stickers of people on pots? Don’t know. But I like that they like their people.