In the long run, we’re all dead

Image: Genista

That’s how John Maynard Keynes put it and although he wasn’t talking about marketing, his words certainly ring true to all of us working with marketing or advertising strategy. This became apparent to me after reading a post on Micco Grönholm’s “The Brand-Man” blog (Swedish only), where he discusses an experiment from behavioral economics dealing with the role of emotions in decision-making and why we don’t learn from our mistakes. Micco’s post was great in itself, but it also made me think of this clip where Daniel Kahneman makes a distgustingly excellent observation: “For a firm, in principle, there is a long horizon. People have a much shorter time-scale. They have to have three meals a day, a salary every month, a bonus every year…”

Bam! Right there, just like that, he blew strategy work right out of the water. Since strategy, in essence, deals with long-term planning and people concern themselves with the here and now, there isn’t much hope for the former. Sure, most marketing people like talking about strategy, workshopping their way through strategy processes and producing strategy documents. Maybe because it makes them (or should I say “us”) feel important. Maybe because it’s fun (it is).

But does it matter?

I’m thinking maybe not, because not only does adhering to strategy require people to be able to reason in abstract concepts, it also often means sacrificing small but concrete short-term gains for larger but long-term, and thereby more vague, ones. And as the Allais paradox shows, when faced with a situation of certainty vs uncertainty, people maximize utility over value, i.e. prefer the more certain outcome even if its value is smaller. Also, focusing on the long-term doesn’t seem to be very conducive to most marketing people’s careers.

However, I’m not prepared to throw my hands in the air and open a coffee shop on a small Greek island just yet. I haven’t given up on strategy, I have merely reached a couple of conclusions. For a strategy to even have the slightest chance of making a difference it has to be:

1. Dead simple (pun intended). If it doesn’t stick the first time, it never will. And nobody’s going to read the documentation.

2. Expressed as an idea. An idea that can actually inspire people. Not something that makes you nod your head going “yeah, that makes sense” but the kind of thing that makes you feel two inches taller.

I guess what I’m talking about is what is normally not labeled as strategy but as “vision”. Like Disney’s “We shall make people happy” or Nike’s “If you have a body, you’re an athlete”. The Romans called it casus belli, something to go into battle for. And possibly to die for. Perhaps that is the most realistic way forward for most companies – good tactics and good people combined with a clear casus belli that can energize them in the same direction.

Enough of this talk of death. To summarize, and to end on a somewhat more cheerful note, I’ll let Robin Williams express the essence of what I think any good strategy should be able to answer:


“Touching eternity”

Image: aftab

What exactly is “an insight”? Something that’s bothered me since I started as a planner is how people throw that word around as if it were synonymous to “a conclusion” or even “a fact”. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen powerpoint slide after powerpoint slide listing 10, 15, 20 “insights”. “Our insight is that 37% of the target group buys milk four times a week” – you know what I’m talking about.

Then, the other day, when I was putting together a presentation on what makes good advertising good I was finally forced to come up with a definition of “insight”. What I ended up writing was that an insight is an informed revelation. It’s not something that is a mere conclusion as a result of purely linear thinking but rather something that is based on fact but then makes a leap of faith. Call it lateral thinking. Call it connecting the dots. Call it an aha-moment. But you know that you have an insight when people around you go “yeah, that’s it! I’ve never actually thought of it that way but now that I do, I realize that’s exactly how it is”. I was pretty happy about it.

But now I’ve been trumped. Then again, the one doing the trumping is Plato, so I’ll try to take it as a man.

What happened was that I was listening to an audiobook today and learned that Plato, talking about insight (he was really talking about intuition but since intuition translates into “to see”, it seems related to insight) in relation to his theory of forms and shadows, said that to have an insight is to get a glimpse of the forms, i.e. of the true being of things. He defined it as “touching eternity”.

Not a bad way to spend your work day.


The best way to think about branding that I’ve heard of so far


Image: yozz!

The other day, Steve Rothman over at his blog The Social Media Soapbox introduced me to this presentation by CMO Mark Addicks on how General Mills is embracing the Conversation online. It’s a really good presentation that I highly recommend, most of all because it’s a fine and very rare example of how an “old”, “traditional” company has made sense of and leveraged social media.

But the one thing that I love the most about Mr Addicks’ presentation is something that isn’t relevant to just social media but to all marketing – regardless of brand, category, discipline and what have you – namely this:

“We try to turn our brand into their brand.”

Brilliant. It’s what branding ultimately is all about. Not necessarily in the hands-on, interactive, conversational way but always in the emotional, sense-of-ownership respect. If a person starts thinking about your product or service as “my brand” – well, that’s damn powerful stuff bound to drive business.

Advertising, Planning

If Paul Feldwick is God, where is his following?


Image: darylfurr

The first time I read Paul Feldwick’s “Exploding The Message Myth” over a year ago I thought it was absolutely brilliant and my sentiments perfectly echoed those of Scamp – the planner hater – when he exclaimed “Is Paul Feldwick God?”.

Then, just the other day I stumbled across it again. And this time I got depressed.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s still brilliant. But what depresses me is that no-one seems to be putting his thinking into action. In the overwhelming majority of cases we’re still doing advertising in exactly the same way we’ve done it for the past fifty years, as if knowledge of human behavior, decision making, communication and what have you hadn’t evolved one bit.

What’s even more sad, is that what I’m whining about right now was the starting point in Feldwick’s piece, too. He asks why so few people in marketing act on the new learnings made in neuroscience and psychology in recent years, and offers a scorchingly insightful explanation:

“The answer I think is we can’t really respond to a new theory until we are prepared to acknowledge and to criticise our existing theory. The problem is, most people in marketing and advertising (and I worked in an ad agency for over thirty years) don’t really believe that they have a theory as such. They think that what they do is just common sense.”

Common sense. How I despise that phrase. It used to be common sense that the world was flat and that women shouldn’t vote. “Common sense” is nothing but short-hand for “don’t bother, we already know everything there is to know, now let’s go burn some books”.

Anyway, back to Feldwick. His argument can be summed up thusly:

  1. What makes people buy a brand has very little to do with a rational process based on a comparison of selling propositions.
  2. Therefore, the effect of advertising has very little to do with messages being transferred from sender to receiver.
  3. Instead, it has a lot to do with associations (to the brand) and relationships (between brand and consumer).

So, to quote Scamp, “no more briefs about hops and barley and shit”. The brief should be built around the desired associations, not around propositions, product benefits and information.

Still, it almost always is. Which makes me wonder why.

Is it because we are ignorant?
Are advertisers and ad agencies stuck in an old theory, and don’t even know it?

Is it because we are lazy?
Do we in fact know, or at least suspect, that advertising doesn’t work the way we thought, but figure it’s too hard to change our approach? There’s a lot of vested interest in research methodologies and work processes built on the old theory.

Is it because he is wrong?
Or could it be that Paul Feldwick is wrong? That advertising first and foremost is about transferring messages, information and product benefits?

Very confusing. So confusing, in fact, that I’ll stop right here and sleep on it. G’night.