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,

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.

Apple, Ping, Douglas Adams… and #cheeseandpicklefail

I was asked by Campaign to write a piece on Apple’s Ping social network, which was in the magazine last week.  I thought I’d post it here too.


So, it turns out that Apple’s Ping is rubbish.  Is it rubbish?  Well, yes, it must be rubbish.

Lots of people have been saying Ping is rubbish, and sharing their thoughts on its unequivocal rubbishness.  They’ve rubbished it on twitter, they’ve rubbished it on blogs, they’ve rubbished it in forums.  Some people have even gone to the bother to make films to upload to Youtube rubbishing Ping.

It’s like a new kid arrived at social network school, and the bigger kids nicked his lunch money, flushed his head down the loo and wrote ‘rubbish’ across his forehead in permanent marker.

OK, so perhaps it’s not surprising.  If I asked you what you’d want from a music social network in 2010, a closed network locked inside a walled garden might not have been top of your list.  To paraphrase The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it’s a social network hosted “in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’…”

We’ll come back to Douglas Adams later though.

However, in a world that’s evolving so, so quickly (Youtube is only five years old, remember), I’m inclined to think that the one thing we mustn’t rush to do is judge.  To try and make more sense of this, it’s worth stepping back a bit to see the big picture.

The past year has seen both Apple and Google start to make plays in the social space – Apple with Ping and Game Centre, and Google with Wave and Buzz. 

Now, the social phenomenon has caught them both napping a bit, and large companies find it harder than small ones to move quickly.  But they’re trying to work out how to build it in to what they do already.  They’re preparing for the future.

The problem is the media glare (both traditional and ‘social’) they both operate under.  When you’re a start-up trying to build something new, nobody is watching.

When you’re Apple or Google and you announce you’re going to the canteen to see what’s for lunch, there’s a press conference at the till and a three day post-mortem across the world on #cheeseandpickleFAIL.

We saw it last month when Eric Schimdt announced at Zeitgeist that they’re “trying to take Google’s core products and add a social component”.  Press coverage went through the roof, and commentators across the world offer a hundred and one thousand different interpretations of what this could mean for users, competitors, regulators, advertisers and so on.  Everyone is always watching.

Which is hardly the ideal climate for innovation.  If either Apple or Google had launched the first version of Facebook, we’d have probably laughed too.  It’s easy to knock people nowadays.  They always said that ‘everyone’s a critic’.  Thanks to technology, they’re now all published critics too.

But rather than poking fun at those who’ve started down the social path and have taken a few wrong steps here and there, it’s much more important to look at who isn’t “trying to take core products and add a social component”.  And I’m not just thinking about technology companies.  I’m thinking about every sort of company.

We’re on the cusp of a world where everything is “social”, from the car you drive to the toys your kids play with.

Ready for the slightly geeky bit?  Good.

You may have heard of the ‘internet of things’.  It describes a world in which every machine, product and object is connected to the internet, and the interaction between them produces a myriad of weird and wonderful services and experiences for us.

Dave Evans, Chief Futurist at Cisco Systems, recently stated that there already 35 billion devices that through some form or other are connected to the internet, and there over a trillion ‘devices’ by his estimate that could be hooked up; cars, livestock, kitchen appliances, pets… the list is endless.

The important bit is that when they’re connected, they’ll talk to each other.

Let’s take the car example.  This year Ford announced MyFord Touch, the next generation of the Ford Sync program (powered by the Microsoft Auto platform).  Amongst many other features, it has its own cellular modem built in.  In tandem with the GPS navigation device, you’ve now got a car that knows exactly where it is… and can talk to other things around it.

Want to know where the cheapest petrol is, or which restaurants are still serving breakfast?  No problem.  Want to see what songs others listen to most along your favourite drives?  Easy peasy.

Then we’ve got toys; Disney recently proposed that all toy manufacturers set out  ‘to establish a set of industry development and technology standards for web-connected toys’.  They’re looking to prevent a format war, and through making one standard for any toy that connects to the internet, decrease the costs of implementation for everyone whilst at the same time increasingly playability for kids.

Think back to when you were a kid.  It often irritated me when playing with two different toy types they didn’t ‘work’ together; Star Wars figures, for example, couldn’t hold pieces of Lego.  Copious amounts of Blu-tack solved that problem of course, though in doing so it created another carpet cleaning based one for Mum.  Sorry Mum.

Anyway, one industry standard that means any toys can talk to each other, whether to form alliances against the Evil Emperor Grrh’AAttH’TTh or to see how often they’ve taken tea together.  No doubt it’ll connect to your Club Penguin account and earn you Coins for playing in the real world too.

All this will be natural for a generation who will grow up knowing that everyone and everything can talk to everyone and everything else; ‘playing nicely together’ takes on a whole new meaning.

It will be so natural, in fact, that they won’t have a name for it.  Which brings us round again to Douglas Adams, who in a 1999 essay despaired of the term ‘interactivity’ and its emergence as a fashionable term to use when talking about the new medium of ‘the web’.  He pointed out that back before broadcast media…

“…we didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.”

Everything was ‘interactive’.  And in much the same way, when everything has ‘social layers’ built into it, so it will be that nobody will talk about ‘social this’ and ‘social that’.  Because why would you make something that didn’t have ‘social’ embedded?

So then, back to Ping; it’s just the first attempt to build a social layer into iTunes.  It had over a million members in the first 48 hours.  Would you bet against it evolving inside iTunes until its useful and fun?  There’s not many folk have made money betting against Apple. 

But maybe by then ‘social’ will be so naturally embedded into everything we’ll forget what all the fuss was about…


The last media agency

“Because we are increasingly producing and sharing media, we have to relearn what that word can mean”

Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus

I talked a couple of days ago about writing this post, prompted by the PSFK badges. 

Well, on the morning we present our wares for the Media Week agency of the year awards (with some stiff competition from our fellow finalists, MEC, Zenith & Carat), it’s as good a time to get it out there…

The media agency you work for now is the last media agency you’ll ever work at.

Of course, by that I don’t mean that everyone who reads this is going to disappear off into some stellar career in some other sector of the communications landscape, or land a plum role client side, or give it all up to farm a smallholding in Norfolk.

Though some of you will.

But it’s more about the nature of what the folk in the media agency do for clients, and what that adds up to as an entity, as a community. 

And as I mentioned before, it was set off by the PSFK badges last week…

I arrived at the conference, and greeting me (along with an army of smiley helpers) was a table of badges with lots of different little badges, with words like ‘PR’, ‘communications’, ‘design’ and the like on them.  Something to help other people know what you did, spark a little conversation perhaps.

Anyway, I grabbed a media badge, as you do…


…and then looked around the other badges. 

And noticing the one saying ‘tech’, grabbed one of those too. 


Because what we in a media agency do nowadays is so infused with technology that each and every last one of us is a techie.  Whether we like it or not.

(Some folk, of course, like it more than others.  You can spot them by asking them how long a parsec is if the Millenium Falcon did the Kessel run in twelve of them…)

And then, I saw the ‘maker’ badge.


Now, traditionally ‘making’ is not what the ‘media agency’ do.  We don’t do making. 

At least, so the ad agency keep telling us.  Before showing us a thirty second script that needs to be shot in Argentina ‘because of the light’.

Yet as I write this of course, I’m up to my ears in the pocketgame manufacturing process (arranging atoms is a different kettle of fish compared to arranging bits), and upstairs Drum PHD have a list of projects as long as your arm of phenomenal things they’ve made…

…including the Sage AFP of The Krypton Factor, which is still the thing I can tell my Mum & Dad about and say ‘we did that’ so that they have at least a vague idea of what I do.

We make stuff, nowadays.  Lots of wonderful, different, diverse things. 

But why? 

Firstly, all a media agency has ever done is connect people with companies.  It’s our sole, driving purpose.  It just so happened there was an established, mass media delivery system that we used to do that when there was nothing else. 

Now there’s lots and lots and lots of different options.  But our purpose remains the same. 

Secondly, we’re techies because we need to understand how you connect people with companies…

Going back to Clay Shirky in Cognitive Surplus, he describes media as “the middle layer in any communication, whether it is as ancient as the alphabet or as recent as mobile phones”.  We need to know that ‘middle layer’ inside out.

Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, I think the making bit goes back to something Matt Jones talked about at PSFK…

He showed this picture of the Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind…


…where his character has this vision of a mountain in his head that he becomes obsessed with.

And the only way he can get it out properly is to make it.

That’s what I think we feel when we, the meadja agency lot, are immersed in that ‘middle layer’ between people and companies… it’s perhaps too hard to explain sometimes to an ad agency exactly what the thing is, or looks like, or should be. 

The only way we can get it out is by making it. 

That’s what we are nowadays:

We are media, we are techies, we are makers.



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.





2010 Social Nework map… now in landscape :)

A couple of days ago, I posted an image of Flowtown’s brilliant update of the XKCD social network map.

Off the back of wishing they’d done it in landscape for easy-presentation-stealing, I sent them a wee note…

Hello there

Firstly – HUGE kudos for updating the XKCD map, genius work. I referred to the original with an oft alarming frequency…

Anyway, second thing… it’s be amazing if there was a version in landscape. Yes, I know, presentation format.  I know you’ve all put huge amounts of work in already, and it shows. Depending on what program you’ve built it in, I can offer my labour to help transpose.

Of course, do feel free to tell me which far flung island of the social media map to f**k off to…

I didn’t really expect anything, but I thought I’d ask anyway.

Imagine my delight to get a note back from Ethan at Flowtown this morning saying…

How’s this…?


Ethan, that’s brilliant.

Everybody, call up Ethan at Flowtown and say thanks, send him beer, pay his rent for a week…

…he’s just made one of the best slides you’ll have in your presentation for the next six months 🙂


Photoshop & Tate Modern's Giant Baby installation

I was at Tate Modern this weekend, and was really impressed by their new Giant Baby installation in the turbine hall…



Ha, yeah, fair cop… I was just mucking about with a bit of perspective, and using the TiltShiftGen app on the iPhone.

The app replicates some of the functionality of proper tilt-shift photography, which is most often used to replicate miniature photography…

…for instance this shot below from the Wikipedia page is a great example of a real life scene that’s been made to look like a model village scene.



All very fun, but do I have a point beyond just posting fun family pics?  Well, maybe.

A while back I wrote a post about how phone apps were beginning to replace hardware things

Well, Max (PHD’s resident photography whizz) and I were talking yesterday about the implications of apps for the more professional, heavy duty software like Photoshop.



This is a screengrab of Photoshop Elements, which I’m trialling at the moment; since switching to a Mac, I don’t have a copy of Photoshop anymore, as I was using an ancient version (PS7) on my old Windows laptop.  I do have CS3 at work though.

It costs £80, it’s very much the stripped back version of Photoshop, designed for the home amateur.  To be fair, I’m not found that much I’m missing from the full version, but there’s the odd thing here and there that bugs me when it’s missing. 

I’m not sure I think it’s worth £80 though, and that’s probably because my internal perception for the value of ‘mucking about with images’ is being pulled down by various things.

Firstly, of course, there’s the phone apps. 

QuadCamera, Hipstamatic, CameraBag, TiltShiftGen… they all do a small element of what Photoshop can do, and in comparison they are just one-trick ponies. 

There’s a Photoshop app too, which I’ve got, but only use it infrequently for the cropping tool.



But having the suite available wherever and whenever has meant that I never do what I used to with snappy phone photography, which is go back to a computer and touch up the best ones in Photoshop.

I have the instant ability to either take more interesting photos, or adjust ones I’ve taken already, right there in my hand.

Then there was Sumo Paint, which Michael drew my attention to yesterday… it’s basically a cloud-based version of Photoshop (and feels very like Photoshop too). 

As long as your connected to the web, you can use it.  If you’re offline a lot, you can buy the download for about £14.  That seems a lot better value than Photoshop Elements…



(Suneil pointed out the irony of something that challenges Photoshop so directly running on Adobe’s other big ‘ting, Flash…)

It’s all made me think that the ‘photo manipulation’ market if fragmenting in much the same way that the print market is.

Imagine Photoshop is the original newspaper; it sells you everything in one big package, you can’t strip out just the parts you want, because originally it couldn’t be served to you that way… and it was just the model they continued with when the interweb came along.

Then something like Sumo Paint is the news website… it gives you most of the content you used to have in a paper you paid for, but for free.  The catch?  You’ve got to be online to use it.  But that actually suits a lot of people, so they stop buying the newspaper…

Finally, the apps are… well, the apps.  They take one specific element of the paper, do it REALLY WELL, and sell it to people for a small fee.

I guess Adobe are heading down The Times paywall approach with photoshop; big fee, small audience. 

Personally, I’d like to see them playing more in the app end of things… let their imagination run wild, and use their excellent tech to make many small, cheap, wondrous things.

But maybe that’s not how big companies work.


Why I'm backing Bud's Bucket Brigade (beyond just the lovely alliteration)

After finding out about Bud Caddell’s book project The Bucket Brigade, I decided to back it (rather than, say, spending yet more money on Threadless T-Shirts).

“But what is it?’ I hear you ask, using my special ‘listen to people saying things on the internet app’.

Well, it’s a book.  Or rather, it isn’t… yet.



It’s a book that’s still to be written; it’s going to be a guide for people & companies through more nuanced, practical thinking about how all this wonderful technology changes everything for a company beyond just the ‘marketing’ bit…

as Bud says:

Brands and marketers have a sense that social media are an opening to culture, but a hunger for simple solutions too often means blunt force gimmicks, aimless executions, and an understanding of value that’s still based on media placements.

  • Let’s help brands and marketers better understand how to court and support existing communities, crowds, and networks; that each is different and that each possesses people seeking unique interests.

  • Let’s prove to brands that there’s far more value in earning, feeding, and sustaining their own communities, crowds, and networks than a few more repeat purchases.

  • Let’s prove what a farce it is to measure that value in terms of media impressions.

  • Let’s set the record straight, there is no free user generated content and there is no magical viral answer to reintroducing the corporation to culture.

  • Ultimately, let’s teach brands to better structure organizations, create products, distribute meanings, and make money

BANG.  That’s brilliant, I thought, how could you not sign up?

But if there’s one thing in particular that made me back the project, it was this sentence…

“Since 1776, when Adam Smith divorced commerce from culture in The Wealth of Nations…”

Personally, since I read The Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler, and subsequently wrote The Communis Manifesto a couple of years back, it’s been hugely apparent that the problems we’re trying to solve aren’t like anything we, or the generation before us, or the generation before THAT have had to solve.

Subsequently, everything I’ve tried to do at PHD has been rooted in not just superficial marketing change, but organisational change with clients (which has been fantastically hard of course for everyone involved… but terrifically interesting and rewarding as a result).

Which sounds a lot like the approach Bud is taking too.  Which is why I’m backing him…


UPDATE… the cheapest education ever

So, I was thinking earlier about why I was backing Bud, and I think there’s another, more selfish, reason I’m doing it…

…I think I’m doing it to help revisit everything that I think I think, if that makes sense.

Whilst Bud’s doing the research and writing and thinking, he’ll be working with the folk who back him at the ‘editorial’ level to sense check/input/read/think/suggest.

By being part of that part of the project, and given the sorts of folk on the editorial team, it’s a brilliant opportunity to look at the world again, and reorientate my head.

So I guess, in a sense, the $100 for the editorial level is the cheapest course I’ll ever pay for…


So why don’t you think about backing Bud’s Bucket Brigade too?

Bud has been raising the funds for the book via project funding site Kickstarter; the initial target’s been hit already…

…but the more funding there is, the better the book will be (even I can do those maths).

Even if it’s just for the lovely alliteration it’ll bring into your life…


Work, work, work… but what's my motivation?

I like thinking about work.

Not in the ‘spend all weekend fretting about shit’ way, though… despite the fact that lots of great ideas pop into your head when you’re not working at all, and that’s generally at weekends.

No, the work I like thinking about is the way we as a culture work nowadays, and why it’s kinda fucked up; the office culture, the military style top-down leadership, motivations, commuting & the stress on transport systems, 9-6pm, overtime, etc etc etc. 

I believe a lot of the way we work has been left in place from out-of-date theories of work (which I touched before on here and there).

Yet I hadn’t heard of Dan Pink until I saw this (via Iain). 

He’s written a series of four books on changing the way we work, and to promote the latest, Drive, he was at the RSA explaining a really interesting thing about motivation in the work place, and how a lot of companies have got it wrong…

…part of which the RSA have turned into one of their brilliant ‘animate’ series:

Interesting, huh?  That’s another book to add to the list for the commute then…


The vanishing point for print moves closer…

There’s an interesting piece from Robert Andrews on (HT Gerd Leonhard) rounding up some predictions from the newspaper industry themselves on when they’ll be winding up their print runs…

…the ‘sunset of print’ as Madi Solomon of the FT referred to it as:

Solomon says the FT is committing to “less print” and says the FT sees a five-year trajectory for having exited print in substantial part. “They’re not saying that, by five years, they’ll completely stop it, but they do see that the sunset is going to be in about five years.”



Now, five years probably seems like a long time… after all, five years ago there was no Youtube.

But now that the newspaper industry in particular is in the mindset that they will stop print (perhaps they’ve moved through the Kubler-Ross model… denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), I wonder if it will be even quicker…

…after all, if it’s losing you money, you know you’re going to stop, and you’re developing alternatives, the logical thing to do is switch over as quickly as possible.

Which goes back to the Vanishing Point for media I talked about a while back.  Whilst we may expect the ‘vanishing point’ of media vehicles to be a little while after the returns from things like advertising (blue line) have dropped below the costs (red line)…



…the real vanishing point comes a lot sooner… as soon as costs exceed income, and there is a viable alternative model to jump to (which is what makes the iPad so attractive for newspaper publishers), then newspapers don’t make economic sense, so production stops…



…even though there will still be advertisers who would have spent money with those newspapers.

I guess it all means it’s not just newspapers that need to be experimenting with new ideas… existing advertisers need to be willing to help find new and better ways of connecting with people through these news organisations. 

Which needs less ‘prove to me that this will definitely work’ and more ‘let’s give this a go and see what we can do…’.