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.




The next era of cigarette branding


There is something grimly fascinating about the creation of electronic cigarette products & brands. They seem to veer from the ‘make it look like a cigarette as much as possible’, to the ‘what would they smoke in Tron?’ brigade.

2013 Projects: From Making to Media


Yes, I know.  It’s a bit slipshod to be writing a “2013 Projects” post when a 1/12th of the year has gone already.  But hey, you know, there’s been stuff on.  The good news is that I’ve started doing some of the things already, so I haven’t lost all that time.

NB: If there’s a balance to be struck, it’s probably to lean more towards doing things rather than writing about them.

Firstly, let’s consider the bigger theme.

Last year’s projects were all about MAKING, in a mostly explicit ‘tinkering with atoms which surf in and around the pixels’.

And whilst I’m not going to stop making things, it feels these annual studio projects should have a different slant every year.

Plus, I get the sense you’ll all be bombarded with stuff about making projects about physical stuff  from folk this year, so I shall refrain from adding too much to the cacophony.

Instead, I’d like to concentrate on MEDIA.

Which, given my background at PHD that might seem, well, predictable.

But I now feel I’ve spent long enough away from a media agency to objectively examine media in its very broadest sense.  As I talked about in the Hollow Factory talk in Paris at the end of last year, we need new metaphors for media.


The metaphors I’m most drawn to are these; they’re the ones that over the last few years have stuck with me the most, and hang together as a threesome too:

Media is the Connective Tissue of Society” – Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus, 2010



Media is a vehicle for knowledge” – Cesar Hidalgo, MIT Media Lab, 2011 (?)

(I think I got this via a talk Graeme circulated and may have been at… I can’t find it referenced anywhere else, though)

cesar hidalgo


Now, nothing is all-digital any more than it’s all-physical.  Media is hybrid, just like buildings, devices, spaces, events etc.  Dan Hill, 2012

dan hill


Media at its broadest is everything that connects us with others, that carries knowledge back and forth, and has transcended that initial, reactionary digital / physical division…

…yes, it’s a work in progress, but it’ll do for a fast, functional definition of what media might be in 2013.

Which is important, because the Labour Theory of Brand Value philosophy (which I’m developing further this year) demands that you demonstrate every single last piece of work that you and your company puts in to a product or service…


You’ve got to consider every piece of media possible as part of the perception of your company, not just the top ten statements that come out in research, or where you decide to spend the vast majority of your media budget.  Which means going far beyond the old comms planning thing of “oh, we could use packaging too”…

If anything, a brand nowadays is like a BitTorrent file of a film; it’s a complex, granular entity which is pulled together from a million different locations, without any one of which, no matter how small, the film is incomplete and won’t work properly.

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 08.11.58


The media grains of the BitTorrent brand of course include every single last tweet, Facebook comment, check-in and so on.  And remember, it’s not just the stuff you can see, it’s the stuff you can’t, because it’s not public (email, for instance, and anything else which people started calling ‘dark social‘), or because it’s just not happening somewhere that it’s captured digitally (hello, word of mouth)…


…I’m just going to stop that there, and get back to the actual projects… more on all the Labour Theory of Brand Value and BitTorrent Brands and the like another day…


So, what are the three media projects?

Well, there’s an audio one, a video one, and a platform one.

A few things over the last month or two have made me think that there’s a sea-change in the way people make and share stuff, which will change the makeup of the brand BitTorrent.

Previously, to be good at sharing things on the Internet, it was about writing and images.  Anyone can type into a blank box, and as more and more photo apps emerged, everyone began to see that they could take and share good pictures (not great, just good enough).

But as device storage gets bigger, broadband, wi-fi and mobile signal gets faster, and the costs gets lower, the capacity is there for more rich-forms of media to be shared with increasing regularity.

So I’ve been wondering if there’s going to be a new phase in the creation of audio & video by  people who’ve been taught that media doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be up.  You can worry about making it great later.

An example of this is, of course Instagram in relation to Flickr.  The quote I always come back to is the one I read in this post by Dan Catt last year, which is originally from Aaron:

“We did a lot of stuff wrong during my time at Flickr but if I had to highlight one thing we fucked up it was somehow creating an environment where people started to believe that their photos were not good enough for Flickr. I mean, really, how did we ever let that happen?”

Flickr used to feel like a place for ‘proper’ photos.  So if you didn’t take proper photos, why would you use Flickr?

Instagram came along, and that wasn’t for ‘proper’ photos.  In part, it felt like cheating, but a kind of cheating that was ok because everyone was doing it.  And in part, it was pretty hard not to share photos with Instagram once it was on your phone, because of the wonderful experience facilitated by what I’d argue was the first amazing social sharing app for mobile.  It just worked.

Now, as more and more things likes Vine emerge, Flickr then is YouTube now (and most certainly Vimeo, the home of artfully prestige videos).

The vast majority of people don’t shoot videos and upload them to YouTube, despite carrying the tools to do so everywhere they go, because there’s nowhere to hide behind in unedited, raw footage.  There’s no way to cheat.

Yet as start-ups and app developers turn their attention to different forms of sharable media (because that’s what brings users, and users are what brings attention, suitors and dollars), there will be increasingly more ingenious ways to cheat audio & video forms.



…sorry, yes, I  know I’m off at another tangent… what the FUCK are these three projects then..?


To the point; an audio project, a video project, and a platform project.


1.  The Sound of Smithery

Christian Payne, AKA Documentally, introduced me to Audioboo at the end of last year.  It’s been around for EVER of course(since 2009, that is).  In short, it gives you a platform on which to record and upload audio through your smartphone (or whatever device, of course, but I’m focussed on using the phone), and then curate in a variety of different ways.

I want to try it for a fast form of blogging; either initial ideas that seem too informal to write properly about (yet), but that I want to capture, or in-the-moment pieces (at conferences and the like) where a fast turnaround piece might be useful.

Here’s the first week’s worth of stuff.  I am slowly getting into it, but enjoying the challenges.  My audioboo profile is here, and there’s an iTunes link is here.


WBB (Why Bloody Bother?) Sound recording has always fascinated me, from being in Gamages Model Train Club and the like, and I’m curious to find out if making media in this way is something that’s pretty niche (making, listening, sharing), or if it has broader possibilities for people and companies.

WDG (Woolly, Doable Goal) Do a weekly “podcast” thing here on the blog, as a post, and see what people think, if people listen, and what they do as a result.


2. View From The Desk

Video is becoming increasingly important in all sorts of ways for companies, but rather than learn about it top down, I thought it’d be better to start bottom up.

My son is fascinated by Youtube, and more specifically unboxings.  He’s only three, but he’s clearly developing that geek gene already.  But he’d rather watch people talking about stuff, how it works, and how good or bad it is.  Especially when it’s other kids:

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about doing videos for a while; I was in Oslo in 2011 and a nice guy called Chris Brogan kept telling me that I should, I think largely because I have a Scottish accent. I couldn’t work out a way that I wanted to do it though.  Until I saw this:

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 10.07.07

It’s an instructables project, where you can build your own webcam on a lampstand.  I used it to shoot this test video (but that’s all so far).

So the plan is to now use it to shoot and share more videos, and tell stories on the desk, as if we were doing it over coffee. My gut feeling is that it will be a bit more work to prep than the audio, but maybe less than writing long blog posts (like, you know, this one?)

WBB (Why Bloody Bother?) Because if I shoot more videos, and get into it, I’ll start to build up a better understanding of how small , inexpensive videos might be used in the future with the same regularity as written content and images might be now.

WDG (Woolly, Doable Goal) One video a week.  Starting this week.  With some time off for holidays and the like, let’s call it forty videos this year.


3. Capturing the BitTorrent for Artefact Cards

Lastly, a really ill-defined project.  The Artefact Cards project in particular is growing into a really interesting platform and community, but the two things I’ve learned about them come down to this:

i) People really only understand them when they use them for the first time

ii) People get better at using them when they see other people using them

And seeing both people using them, and talking about using them, is really helping me understand more about the cards themselves, but more broadly about how people work best in the modern ‘workshop’ (a wee nod to Sennett there).

In short, I started out looking at Artefact Cards through the lens of the work I do.

lens 1

But now, quite by accident, I’ve found I’m looking at the big themes in modern working practices through the lens of the Artefact Cards…

lens 2


So I’d like to have a proper infrastructure in place to capture all of the things that happen around the cards (as much as possible), and help people put in and take out from the communal knowledge base.  It might be wikis, apps, YouTube channels, whatever… I don’t yet know yet.  It’s the engines that help power all the granular media around though.

WBB (Why Bloody Bother?) Because introducing people to a new way of working, then leaving them on their own to figure it out seems, well, a bit on a 20th Century way to do things.

WDG (Woolly, Doable Goal)  I have absolutely no idea… let’s call it “three ways in which people can put in and take out from the communal pot”.  That’s super-woolly, innit?


So there we go, folks.  Here’s to 2013 (or at least, what’s left of it… if you’ve finished reading this, it’s probably March already…)

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.

People want to be brands, brands want to be people

So, I was in the paper today.  I’ve not been in the paper since I was in the Hamilton Advertiser for playing rugby or something.  It was a while ago.  Mum may have a cutting I guess.

Anyhoo, I was in The Observer, chipping in my tuppence-worth about sports people and twitter, after all the Pietersen/Mascarenhas/Rice twitter hiccups of late.  The article’s here if you’re interested (and you aren’t an Observer reader).


Of course, as is always the case whenever you say something, you walk away and think of millions of much smarter, wittier, more insightful things. 

It occured today that, in general, sports stars (and other celebs, of course) have been chasing ‘brand’ status for a while… to have the perfect, replicable, sellable image that will reap millions from sponsorship deal after sponsorship deal.

Twitter (if in the hands of the star themselves, unfiltered and unfettered by advisors, managers or PRs) doesn’t help with that. 

By putting someone so indefatigably human at the heart of a direct communication to millions, it should be no surprise that they act… well, human.  They say the sorts of things that ordinary people say to each other.  It doesn’t get ground through the machine into the worthless, sanatised quotes we expect from today’s sports stars.

The main benefit of this (and I think this is kinda of universally agreed) is that it helps bring sporting stars and sporting fans ‘closer together’.

Which is, at the other end of the spectrum, what ‘brands’ want to do.  Which is why companies and brand teams up and down the land are trying to break apart this ‘perfect brand image’ and become more real, more connected, more… human.

I reckon that, over the next five years, a lot more companies will end up somewhere in between the sports stars and the brands; unique, talented individuals who’re part of that company will be the brand representatives, but with the acceptance that it’s warts ‘n all. 

It’s not just what is being said that’s important, it’s who is saying it.





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 –


The stupidity of the IPA Excellence Diploma

Why would you want to come up with anything new? 

It just gets in the way of doing the same things that your boss did before you, and his before that. 

Nothing’s changing, not really, it’s all the same game… write a powerpoint presentation, make a telly ad, put it on telly, repeat every year ad infinitum.

Everyone gets paid, media folk go to lunches at The Ivy, advertising folk go to shoots in Argentina, digital folk go and get their microscooter pimped in Hoxton.

Why rock the boat?  We’re onto a good thing here, people…

If you go learning things, reading things, forming opinions on stuff, then go around writing and sharing these thoughts… well, how’s that going to make your agency better?

So, I guess, the IPA Excellence Diploma isn’t helping anyone at all.

I blame the tutors.  For a bunch of so-called industry greats, they really should know better.  Let’s name names; Nick Kendall, Chris Forrest, Jim Taylor, Peter Field, Gerry Moira, Mark Lund… all guilty, to a man.  Especially Kendall, he’s the ringleader.

You’d have thought they’d have just covered the ‘how to get ads made and shown as quickly as possible’ bit, and done everyone a favour.  But no.

Six modules, on just about every conceivable topic… brands, people, channels, measurement, creativity and leadership. 

They they give you a two months to read endless amounts of brilliant discourse on each area, after which you’ve then got to write a 2,000 word essay on ‘what you believe…’.

And if that weren’t bad enough, at the end of it all you’ve got to craft a 7,000 word thesis on what it all means… where the future of our industry lies.

Frankly, it’s asking for trouble.  So unsurprisingly, over the four years of the course it’s produced endless amounts of trouble makers… Faris, Sam, Graeme, Matt, Alex, Chris, Chris, Bethan… the list goes on. 

In fact, I was at the graduation last night of the class of 2010 (I mentored Ben Harrison at Rocket this year), and it turns our there are 66 of us who’ve gone through the course so far…

Which is enough, surely, yes?  How can the industry expect to stay firmly stuck in the nineties if we keep teaching our best people to think better, more revolutionary thoughts?

So, this is where you come in.

I want you to email Chloe at the IPA (, and rule yourself out now

I dunno, say something like “Chloe, if you were to send out any information about the next intake of the IPA Excellence Diploma in 2011, I would be in no way interested AT ALL.  I am happy sitting here in blissful ignorance, because life is easier that way”.

Or, if you’re the boss of a someone who’s looking like they might unfortunately turn out to be brilliant, maybe say “Dear Chloe, I would request that you refrain from sending my charge any information on this course, because they’re enough trouble as it is with all their ‘great ideas’, and I don’t’t want them having any more”.

So please, please, for the sake of the comfortable, easy, unchallenging world we all seek to protect, email Chloe right now.

Of course, you may take a different view. 

You may think the the only thing that’s stupid about the Excellence Diploma is that there isn’t a five year waiting list to be on it. 

But, you know, maybe that’s just you.  And me.  And a fair few other people.

Either way, drop Chloe an email (  Ask her about the Excellence Diploma.  And make up your own mind…




Inception, MacGuffins, and ideas that spread

“What’s the most resilient parasite? An Idea.

A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules…”



(This is a follow up to the previous post on MacGuffins and so on.  It’s worth reading that first.)

Now, I’m very certain I won’t have been the first to seize on this quote from Inception and bend it to fit some hinky marketing theory about social sharing.

I thought the quote had a beautiful simplicity of expression about it.  We all know that, at the end of the day, powerful ideas spread.  As we navigate the layer upon layer of modern communications though, it’s the how and why we’re increasing trying to unpick.

One of the contributors to the last post, John Dodds, said…

“Think Social Idea”

…and followed up with an explanation…

“Focus on the idea, the belief behind the company – why you’re doing what you’re doing and how you’re hoping to change the world for the better – and focus your efforts on making it social ie spreadable discussable, supportable…”

Beautifully expressed.  Of course, the thing is, it all amounts to same thing; Object-Idea, Social Idea, MacGuffin.  It doesn’t really matter what you call it.


Let’s go back to the movies.

I found a post by Douglas J. Eboch, who’s a screenwriter (and a fine fellow I reckon, given he uses his middle initial… that’s always a mark of good character…).  It was on MacGuffins.

Douglas writes…

“I define the MacGuffin as the object or goal that the characters’ mission is focused on. For example, in Inception (written by Christopher Nolan) it is the idea that Cobb and his team are trying to implant in Fischer’s dreams. In Casablanca it is the letters of transit. In Sweet Home Alabama, the divorce papers. In Avatar (written by James Cameron) it’s the goofily named Unobtanium.”

The thing that gets people moving, doing things, makes you care about finding out what happens.

Douglas continues…

“Alfred Hitchcock defined the MacGuffin this way: “It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers.” Hitchcock believed the more generic the MacGuffin was the better since the audience didn’t really care about it.”

“Inception tells us what the idea that Cobb must implant is, but do we really care? It could be just about anything and the movie would still work as well. It’s simply a device to get Cobb and Arthur and Ariadne and the others into a dangerous dream world that will test their skills and force their characters to undergo internal change.”

It doesn’t matter what it is, or what it’s called.  It’s what it does to people.

Back to our MacGuffin.  Well, what I called a MacGuffin.  John called it a Social Idea.  Hugh called it an Object-Idea. You’re maybe thinking of calling it something different, putting your own spin on it, something that works for you to help explain to others.

It is all of these, and it is none of these.

The Macguffin here is a MacGuffin.

It doesn’t matter what it is called, or what diagrams you use to draw it.  What matters is what happens to the people who’re talking about it, debating it, remodelling it, chasing the perfect version.

It changes us. It plants an idea, a seed inside our head, which starts to grow.  And when we talk about it to others, it starts to change them too.  We can express it however we like, and it will take many forms, but that idea will continue to spread.

And that idea is that we’ve got to change the way we do things.

The idea that the future of marketing, branding, advertising, media and so on is very different from the past, and indeed from the present.

The idea that companies whose purpose isn’t an social, spreadable idea actually might not have that much of a future.

It’s an idea that can transform the world and rewrite all the rules…



Thinking about the MacLeod-Earls MacGuffin

For the past couple of days, I’ve been trying to iron out some wrinkly thoughts that were started off by Hugh MacLeod’s post on ‘Object-Ideas’.

I’m working on various diverse client things that will benefit if I get to an answer, but for now it’s just some thoughts aired in the open to see where it takes me, and what you clever folk think too…

Anyone, this is what I’m netting out at presently…

The MacLeod-Earls MacGuffin.

There’s three things encapsualted in this term; one from Mark Earls, one from Hugh, and one from Alfred Hitchcock.  I’ll explain…


Firstly, there’s Mark’s Purpose Idea:

“The Purpose-Idea is the “What For?” of a business, or any kind of community.  What exists to change (or protect) in the world, why employees get out of bed in the morning, what difference the business seeks to make on behalf of customers and employees and everyone else?”

When I looked back at the little smileys diagrams I made for the Communis Manifesto, I realised I’d drawn it in; it’s this bit; at the heart of the company


Brilliant companies and communities of course thrive of a communal, shared purpose. So even with no connection to the outside world (the guys around the outside of the diagram), a great company retains its Purpose-Idea

Then, secondly, there’s Hugh’s Social Object:

“The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that “node” in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.”

Again, back to Communis… I’d drawn those in too, but this time more purposefully (I referenced Hugh’s ‘social objects’ in the thesis).


In the diagram, the ‘contexts’ referred too are the social objects where you connect internal to external… encouraging the company to participate in the social world.  Make & do things that are of interest to people, form relationships, collaborate and so on and so forth…

So far, so 2008.  What’s changed?

Well, Hugh’s point is that the two things, Social Objects & Purpose-Ideas, can be (and most often are) quite distinct from each other.

If you do something amazing in the social space (Whassup, Meerkat, Old Spice etc), then people will like you more for it.

But it’s not really what you’re about.  Your Social Objects aren’t really that linked to your Purpose-Idea…


It’s just the things you made to make people talk about you more.

So that, somewhere down the line, they’ll think ‘oh yeah, they’re the guys that did X, maybe I’ll buy their stuff that they also do…’

But as Hugh puts it:

A social object on steroids i.e. an Object-Idea, is far more powerful. Because it’s actually talking about stuff that actually matters to people. 

It’s not enough for people to like your product. For them to really LOVE it, somehow they’ve got to connect and empathize with the basic, primal human drives that compelled you create your product in the first place. The Purpose. The Idea.

Which got me thinking about what Hitchcock called the MacGuffin


“We have a name in the studio, and we call it the ‘MacGuffin’.  It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers”


It’s the thing in movies that gets everything, well, moving.  That which all the protagonists will do anything for.

So if we take it that back into the world of Social Objects and Purpose-Ideas, we can define our  MacGuffin here as:

The element that gets people talking about the thing that’s most important to your business

Which, I reckon, has lot of appeal for any company wrestling with modern communications…

For instance, you stop creating limited shelf-life social objects.  Things created to simply get attention, and then become leaden relics you don’t know what to do with, but feel you should persevere with because so much time, effort & money has been spent on them.  With a great MacGuffin, everything you do socially feeds back into your central Purpose-Idea.

Which also means that what you do socially starts to inform your Purpose-Idea; it leads a company more rapidly and quickly into areas in which they can flourish, because it’s created with people who’re interested in what it is you do, not just what you say.

So, to conclude for now, at the core of the MacGuffin, I’d propose there are two principles:

i) All Social Objects must build to and from the Purpose-Idea

ii) The Purpose-Idea must be compelling enough to breed Social Objects

…which means it’s not just a company’s marketing that changes, it needs to be the company itself.

It’s not about making more interesting and social marketing.  It’s about becoming a more interesting and social company.

Otherwise, amongst the rare runaway successes, we’ll keep on seeing lots of sausage companies asking you to make videos.

Now, clearly, I need to think a lot more about the implications & actionable stuff out the back of this. But hey, it’s a first stab.  Thoughts?


(as an aside, inspiration for the term comes from an economic device called the Edgeworth-Bowley Box – not a something messrs. Edgeworth & Bowley worked on together concurrently, but thinking that was developed over time, which reflects the continuum of this idea I think)