Why Making Things People Want beats Making People Want Things – #adtech_london

My slides from the talk from earlier today at Ad:tech 2013 in London:



It links back to some of the questions raised in the written piece from a couple of weeks ago.  It’s nearly two years since I stumbled across the phrase as a galvanising idea for the work I do with clients and agencies here at Smithery, so it’s been great to reinterrogate the notion slighty in the context of some other things.  As always, a smattering of economics and maker culture infuses it all.


How Our Work Might Work – my talk from Silicon Beach


That nice Dave Birss grabbed me before my talk, for a wee interview.  Though it would fit well here – covers basic ideas of the talks, making things, the new Artefact Boxes, and the Oxford Saïd Business School project…


A talk I gave at Silicon Beach 2013 in Bournemouth, about how the way in which brands, agencies and makers all might think about how they create the marketing for what it is they do.  Thanks to everyone down there for the brilliant reception, and especially Matt Desmier for inviting me.

Are Brands Fracking The Social Web? [ My talk from Squared ]

I’m not long out of giving a new talk this morning for the first time, at Squared in London to the bright young things who’re just starting out on a six week intensive learning experience.  It’s always a privilege to talk to the future leaders of an industry, and today was certainly no exception.  Find out more about Squared here.



I was nervous beforehand, given that so much of it was new thinking, and the rest was a different look at some older things I’ve written and talked about.  It seemed to go well though, and it started a good debate (which could have gone on longer, so I should try and shut up sooner next time perhaps).

More than ever, there’s a lot lost in just having slides here, rather than the full “sound & vision” experience.  But would love to know what you all think, as ever.

Thanks to Sarah & Jen for the invitation to talk, all the mystery folks who kept recommending me to them for a ‘talk on the social web’, and to Mark Earls for kindly giving it a quick sense check last night at some ungodly hour.

And finally, thanks to everyone who adds to the dialogic conversation around this stuff, by blogging, writing, sharing and chatting about it.  It makes putting the talks together so very interesting and enjoyable.




Lego Batman’s take on the Future of Advertising 2020.

Last year, the Herdmeister Mark Earls and I were asked to contribute to the Wharton School of Advertising.  Given that it’s a celebration of different views from across academia, business, students and more, we thought there might be enough long reads already, so we’d do something…

…well, a little different, using Artefact Cards.  And Lego Batman.  Enjoy:

Developed for the Wharton Future of Advertising Program’s Advertising 2020 Project 2012-2013, wfoa.wharton.upenn.edu/ad2020.

If you want to sign up to get news of when all the pieces are released, then head on over here and sign up for news.

I’ll have what @herdmeister’s having

This evening, I’m tearing through the latest book from Mark Earls (aka @herdmeister), “I’ll Have What She’s Having” (which he co-authored with Alex Bentley and Michael J O’Brien).


It’s fascinating, thought-provoking, and contains some really useful, practical structures around using data around a business to understand what sort of market you’re in; is it one where people truly decide autonomously based on precise information, or really are they simply copying others because nobody really knows the difference between products.

One paragraph in particular grabbed my attention, probably because of the idea amnesia and adverspectacular posts I wrote recently.

“…everyone else is also trying to spread his or her ideas the same way.  It’s like shouting across Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  Most of our attempts to spread our ideas or to generate attention for them fail because , as Charles Darwin realised upon reading Thomas Malthus’s essay on population and food supplies, there is only limited space for success.  Hindsight is 20/20, so we look back, trying to emulate past successes that no one predicted beforehand, no matter how lucky or complex or timely those past successes were…”

We’re all copying machines, as Mark says.  Especially when we can see what everyone else is doing.  So we copy what we can see them doing, because, hey, it can’t be wrong.

But actually, given space is rapidly filled up by “me-too” activity (eg – everyone has a Facebook page, and is demanding time and love from a limited pool of users), any previously successful tactic or strategy will be a lot less likely to work again.

And what’s more, it’ll be really hard and frustrating for people to work out why, because of the complexity around the mutating network, increased activity, cultural shifts and so on.

So, ironically, understanding more about how people copy each other in making decisions might make you less inclined to look for success in spreading messages and stories by copying someone else’s marketing ideas.

Anyway, no doubt you’ve already got a copy of IHWSH, but if not, treat yourself here.  You won’t be disappointed.

The X Factor, Adverspectaculars, and lessons from Dr Seuss

It’s that season again… reality TV dominates the autumn schedule, as nights close in and people huddle round the warming glow of that screen in the corner.  And this year more than ever, the advertising world goes mad for the only reliable ‘Event TV’ spot left.

(It’s worth bearing in mind that before the internet came along, ‘Event TV’ was just called ‘Tuesday night’.  Or Wednesday, or whatever day.  Every night was Event TV night.)

Anyway, I don’t watch the champion of ‘Event TV’, The X Factor, for many reasons (probably good and bad).

But I do watch twitter whilst it’s on.  And, because of the company I keep in twitterland, I see a lot of tweets about the ads in between the acts.

Now, of course last night it was #yogurtwars in X Factor slots, and ergo my Twitter stream…

…and there was an Activia one with Tiffany from Eastenders too, apparently, but I’ll spare you that.  Basically because I can’t find it.

Now, clearly Britain’s being invaded by yogurt stormtroopers intent on spreading all sorts of new types of counter-cultures.

And I, for one, welcome our new yogurty overlords.

But, on a slightly more thoughtful note, I think it’s part of a slightly worrying, one-dimensional train-of-thought in agency land; the push for the ADVERSPECTACULAR, the greatest song and dance show it’s possible to put on in thirty seconds.

(Although better in sixty.  Though, actually, it only really works as a ninety…)

You can understand exactly why… because when they work, they really work.  Without dipping into exactly why and how you measure it, we can all point to the adverspecatular successes of the last few years (Sony Balls, Cadbury Gorilla, Nike Write The Future, etc etc), which did everything from galvanise supply chains and sales people to customers and marketing circles (to the best of our knowledge).

But it seems to be the driving force behind a lot of campaigns nowadays, and there’s perhaps too much gravity pulling people to the marketing model that says ‘make an adverspectacular, debut it on The X Factor, monitor social buzz…’

So what’s going on?

Mel Exon at BBH, behind the Yeo Valley ads, gave (and subsequently shared here) a brilliant presentation on the future of agency models at the last Google Firestarters evening (there’s two more excellent presentations from James Caig of MEC and Martin Bailie of Glue too).

Mel points out:

“At its simplest… ALL marketing – not just the rare handful of brands that regularly win awards – needs to be *genuinely* useful or entertaining.  If  not, marketing will become that thing that marketers and agencies fear the most: unseen and unheard.”

Which reminded me of something Ed Cotton posted about three years ago, off the back of an Emily Bell column – I borrowed it at the time, and it feels right to revisit it now.

It was rooted in what technologists are motivated by; entertaining people, being useful, educating them, or connecting them together.  Ed proposed that it was also a good model for working out what your brand should do:

I would propose that marketers and their agencies default to “entertain” far too readily.

There is nothing new or innovative in making an entertaining ad and putting it in a high rating TV slot.  That’s been modus operandi for years.  Of course, the infrastructure that can be placed around the spot is the interesting bit for me, and a lot of people are doing that really well, I think (e.g. getting the Yeo Valley song up on iTunes on launch night is simple, but really smart).

But conceptually, for a client, “make a really entertaining ad” is a pretty easy step to move to.  And it is something an agency feels utterly happy to execute, because they’ve got loads of people already who can do that.  It’s a brave decision that’s actually pretty safe to make.

The other three categories aren’t so straightforward.

Usefulness is more interesting, and difficult.  It unlocks a lot of the things around mobile, apps, service improvements that only a very few agencies genuinely get off the ground for clients.  The timescales on it are not campaign timescales either, whether you’re talking about development or measuring effects.

Education is again harder, trickier; how to impart knowledge, skills and ability to a group of people, leaving their lives better and more fulfilled, in a way that still satisfies the demands of marketing.

“Connecting people” I always think of the equivalent of running a party, booking a venue, paying for the food… but then just letting the guests get on with it.  They’re interested in each other, not in you, necessarily.
So of the four, you can see why Entertain is so appealing.  The other three are hard to define, extract value from, measure against the short-term effectiveness of “entertain”.

Howevre, I’ve been wondering… in so readily defaulting to “entertain”, are marketers and agencies are building up problems for the future?

Maybe a brand can only go so far down “entertain” before expectations (their own, and that of their audience) become unreasonable?  And at a macro-level, if EVERY brand starts playing the “entertain” game, does that universally dull the effect?

Every time, the joke has to be pushed THAT MUCH FURTHER… bigger, longer, more CGI, more preposterous, more inspiring…

It’s the problem The Cat In The Hat faced when playing “Up-up-up with a fish”…

“Look at me!
Look at me now!” said the cat.
“With a cup and a cake
On the top of my hat!
I can hold up TWO books!
I can hold up the fish!
And a little toy ship!
And some milk on a dish!
And look!
I can hop up and down on the ball!
But that is not all!
Oh, no.
That is not all…

“Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how.
I can hold up the cup
And the milk and the cake!
I can hold up these books!
And the fish on a rake!
I can hold the toy ship
And a little toy man!
And look! With my tail
I can hold a red fan!
I can fan with the fan
As I hop on the ball!
But that is not all.
Oh, no.
That is not all….”

That is what the cat said…
Then he fell on his head!
He came down with a bump
From up there on the ball.
And Sally and I,
We saw ALL the things fall!

The current state of the market means people will keep adding more bells, more whistles.  Because they have to, to look better than the rest.  Is this sustainable, though?  I wonder what happens if, or when, the ADVERSPECTACULAR model for advertising falls..?


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.

The Planner's Book Of Things To Make

The planner’s book of things to make

View more webinars from John V Willshire.

UPDATE – I felt a bit guilty about posting just the below.  So I’ve uploaded the presentation on Slideshare and done a wee voiceover.  Hoorah for the interwebs.


…yes, fair enough, you might click on a post expecting something interesting, but you’re going to be disappointed, because all it actually is so far is some photoshop I’ve bodged together as an intro slide for the IPA – Level One talk I’m doing tomorrow…


Sorry.  It’s all I have at the moment.

If you want to read stuff on what you thought the subject area implied, then you should wait until I write the bastard, and manage to record a wee narration and upload it here, or maybe read Mark Pollard’s post on Why Strategists Should Make Stuff again (a faster, better option, probably).

Or you could watch a video that We Are The Physics made:



Physical stuff. It matters. In Matter.

A quick ‘un…

We love all the digital malarkey.  It’s ace, and new, and exciting, and so on and so forth.

As a result, we spend less time thinking about the physical stuff.  And as Ed points out here, physical connections for brands & companies can be phenomenally powerful.

It’s what Matter was started to do, over two years ago now. 

Here’s a photo of the first box I opened back then.  There’s a whole pictorial review on flickr here


Anyway, Matter is coming back this November, when we put the Pocketgames in it.  Woo!

Someone’s dropped out though, so Tim asked if there was anyone else that might want to put something wonderful in Matter to send to people. 

I thought I’d post it here, in case anyone who reads it might have something.

But what to put in?

Charlie wrote a good critique of the first matterbox pointing out that…

“Most of the other bits were a bit weak… not really getting me that excited or stimulated.”

I think (and may be wrong) that the trick to getting something that works brilliantly in Matter is to create something physical inside the box that will make people want to do something social outside the box.

It’s not (I repeat, NOT) a sampling exercise. 

It’s a box of actual social objects.

Email Tim, he’ll tell you more – tim@artomatic.co.uk


Instant Google Instant Ad… and the time it takes to get things right

This is wonderful… the guys at Whirled Creative have taken Google Instant and used it to create a video for the wonderful Tom Lehrer’s Elements song…

(Via Farisarium)

It was only launched, what, twenty four hours ago?  It’s amazing how quickly you can turn things around nowadays. 

And, in fact, how quickly you should.

When we we started on the Pocketgame project for Cadbury’s Spots V Stripes, we realised we could either spend ages getting something exactly spot on…

…or just do something to the best of our ability as quickly as we could.

We summed it up like this…