I Sea: Awards are not the purpose of advertising

I worked in the music industry for many years, with many globally renowned artists, songwriters, composers, producers and musicians, from Max Martin to Mutt Lange to David Hirschfelder.

These creative titans always only ever had one measure of success: ‘How many units did we sell?’.

To them awards were largely an irrelevance. Advertising seems to work the opposite way. Many people claim to be creative – not to sell, but to win awards. Awards are not the purpose of advertising. The only role of advertising agencies is to reduce price elasticity of demand for their clients products and services through inspiring, memorable, high-reach communications.

This grows businesses. This increases total, long-term shareholder return. This builds 100-year brands. That’s what advertising does when it’s really, really good.

However, many, many ad agencies don’t understand business, don’t understand this concept, don’t aim for it, don’t measure it and ultimately add zero shareholder value.

So how do they measure success? How do they feel like they’re winning? Through Likes, awards, plaudits of their peers and other empty measures.

And in many, many instances, they are so unfocused, so utterly without purpose or vision that they create fake work in order to win creative awards at Cannes in the hope that they can win clients, do empty work without meaning and make enough money that they can traipse off to Cannes the next year with a bagful of fake work and win creative awards.And so on.

So much so that the KPIs of most ad agencies are populated with awards win metrics, so that awards become the sole focus of the agency. ‘Scam’ is even joked about as ‘Strategic Creative Advertising Marketing’. Not doing worthy work – but making fake work to win awards.

So, the creative awards shows are largely filled with fake work, with organised ‘voting blocks’, where countries and holding groups game the voting systems to ensure their underperforming sectors, geographies or brands can win awards.


They claim these creative awards will ‘allow us to hire better staff’ or ‘give us profile with clients’. However, these just don’t add up.

What adds up is that only approximately 20% of marketeers are trusted by their CEOs to drive growth in their business. That the average tenure of a CMO in a publicly-listed company is less than three years.

That clients all over the world are waking up to the fact that the trillions of Likes they campaigned so hard for haven’t added to their revenues.

What adds up is that to grow, CEOs increasingly turn to accounting firms and other consultancies to provide marketing and advertising services because they understand business.

What adds up is that advertising is losing the battle for talent; where will our talent come from unless our industry adjusts course and more agencies recognise the true, sustainable measures of success?

Ideas are the most powerful driver of business growth, but the most revolutionary and amazing ideas in the world today aren’t being judged at awards shows in the south of France; they are being judged through the consumption of sovereign individuals, consumers who seek to buy these ideas, fragmented into the shape of can’t-live-without apps, of memorable songs, of stunning product design, of brave start-ups, of beautiful stores, of essential credit cards.

This kind of commercial creativity – this creative gale of entrepreneurship and capitalist endeavour – needs the help of advertising agencies to grow and to flourish. Clients make this incredible stuff, it’s our duty to extract the intangible value and to inspire people to buy it.

What advertising creates isn’t worthy of award, but it is highly worthy of reward. Drag a person out of their living room and into your store. Build a website that allows them to buy something in such a beautiful and simple way that they’ll do it again.

Use data and insights to create and launch 1,000 new insurance products – one for every suburb.

Make someone change the way they drive home to shop in your supermarket. Build an app that gives service staff everything they need to make the experience incredible. Inspire and educate clients as to how marketing really works.

Create content so useful that a million people refer to it every year. Give millions a message so insightful, resonant and so well branded that they can’t forget you when they next want to buy your brand of drink. Do this every day. Find ways to measure it. Find every day success. Be rewarded.


The purpose of agencies needs to move away from the disgusting work epitomised by Grey Singapore with its ‘I Sea’ app – disturbingly and predictably awarded at Cannes – and towards recognising the real growth and real success as measured through: client revenue growth; client share price growth; increasing internal rate of return, decreasing cost per acquisition; enduring advertising creative that burns its way into the consciousness of people who don’t care and don’t share; to convincing millions of consumers to buy the products and services of clients instead of a few giddy creative directors sitting in a room in Cannes.

A true democratisation of success. Real reward. Music to my ears.

The Five Faces of Social Media

Very often, I will be in a discussion with a client where they espouse the virtues of social media. They’ll suggest that social media is simply about people “liking” their brand.

I tend to bristle at the idea that social media has a single face – a single purpose. Especially when that purpose is as a relatively unproductive subscription-based profile better know as a Facebook Page, Snapchat ID or an Instagram profile.

The best way to look at social media is via the “best fit” purposes by which we might use various social media channels, of which there are five.

1. Social Media as a Subscription / Customer Service Channel

Liking / following these channels allows existing consumers to be kept up to date with the activities of a brand (although only a small percentage of people ever see the updates of said brand). This is where social channels attract the most attention – having “likes” and “follows”.

The ability for people to “like” a profile has taken on an almost supernatural power amongst novice marketers, as if the act of liking somehow guarantees reach, brand recognition and even uplift in “brand love”.
Sadly, the opposite is true.

The heaviest consumers of a brand – the people who are already buying the brand as much as they possibly can be – are the ones who are most likely the followers of your branded profile. It’s the people who are rusted on who are the ones liking, not the people who are the most important: your next, newest consumer.

Interestingly, only some of these channels – namely Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat – tend to attract the vanity metric seeking marketers. Ask most marketers how many people subscribe to their YouTube Channel, or how many emails they have collected in their database, and the answer is often far less clearcut, an indication of how arbitrary most of these figures are.

Therefore, the way in which these channels should be used as is later in the path to purchase – as a means of upselling, reminding or as a customer service tool.

In summary: Use your Facebook / Twitter feeds as a customer service / upsell tool, not a reach builder. “Likes” are of almost no value if you want to attract new customers.

2. Social media as a content channel

Probably the best, most common use of social media is as a low cost, high quality content distribution channel.

For many years, marketers and their colleagues in the IT department argued in favour of hosting their own websites, their own video streaming services and their own empires of wires.

However, social media channels such as YouTube proved that the best tools are free or nearly free. Using social media channels as a content distribution service is by far the best way to ensure your content is seen in the highest quality, on the right device, in the right format. Internal, bespoke content systems are generally vastly inferior, as they are almost constantly out of date, of poor quality and hideously expensive. Further, most of them are not search optimised as well as social networks, so your content doesn’t have the same opportunity of being discovered by consumers.

In summary: Use social media channels such as YouTube / Vimeo / Tumblr / others as world’s best practice content hosting /distribution services.

3. Social Media as an Advertising Platform

Social media is largely monetised via advertising, and in the era of increasing ad-blockers, social media is an extremely powerful way of advertising to consumers.

Reach is more important than frequency. It’s like a leaky bucket: every brand leaks consumers, brands that grow are characterised simply by their ability to acquire quicker than they leak. Marketing is quite straight forward: keep filling the bucket quicker than it empties.

Social media advertising is one of the best and cheapest ways of working towards this – with a variety of optimised ad formats, highly targeted advertising (on the likes of Facebook and Google platforms), and rich media options such as videos and HTML5.

The only reason why social media channels aren’t totally overwhelmed with advertising dollars is that most media agencies can’t earn equivalent rebates / revenues from booking ads on many social media sites, so they prefer other media. This isn’t good for clients.

In summary: Use social media channels as a strong part of your media buying mix. Mark Zuckerberg and the like will love me promoting this perspective: Social media’s best use is as a reach tool – and advertising platform.

4. Social media as an analytics platform

Social media channels allow you a good level of analytics on a per post or per profile level. While not generally as good as web-concentrated services such as Google Analytics, many social networks as such Facebook and YouTube provide an excellent level of analytics, delving deeply into content analytics, per-post analytics and profile / page analytics. You can see what has worked and what hasn’t.

YouTube in particular has extremely powerful video analytics services, allowing realtime video tracking, drop-offs, and various other ways to understand and optimise content.

In summary: Use social media as a content-based analytics platform to examine how popular / engaging your content is.

5. Social media as a consumer data source

One of the strongest and most enduring assets that Facebook has is the quality of user data. It’s very difficult to “lie” to Facebook about our activities, in the same way it’s very easy to “lie” to most other online services, for example when we sign up to a new service and claim to live in “Afghanistan” because we couldn’t be bothered scrolling past the first country to appear in the pop-up menu.

Given that most people upload their real names, their date of birth and many other true pieces of data (let alone the copious amounts that Facebook collects about us via ambient means), the ability to harvest and analyse this data is a particularly powerful marketing tool.

Whether by uploading email / phone / contact details and generating a “Lookalike” market for further communication, or by advertising to an incredibly tiny and specific market of people, or by simply analysing social sign-on data for trends and insights about our consumers, social networks such as Facebook and Linkedin, are a wonderful and deep source of data about our consumers.

Why McDonald’s was right to snub Burger King

Ambush is a key tactic in war and McDonald’s executives have had to endure an ambush of a bizarre nature.

Burger King’s attempt to create a unified “McWhopper” in order to raise awareness of the ‘Peace One Day’ charity were met with an entirely predictable reaction; media outlets all over the world covered it and the emotional echo-chambers of social media have worked themselves into a frenzy of excitement..

Despite this relatively positive reaction, McDonald’s has chosen not to participate. In an open letter…

Dear Burger King,

Inspiration for a good cause… great idea.

We love the intention but think our two brands could do something bigger to make a difference.

We commit to raise awareness worldwide, perhaps you’ll join us in a meaningful global effort? And every day, let’s acknowledge that between us there is simply a friendly business competition and certainly not the unequaled circumstances of the real pain and suffering of war. We’ll be in touch.

-Steve, McDonald’s CEO

P.S. A simple phone call will do next time.

As much as they’ve now been condemned for not being part of what might be regarded as a worthy initiative of world peace, McDonald’s are right to avoid this initiative at all costs. Here’s why.

Firstly, it’s contextually distasteful and based on a woefully inaccurate premise. War is hell. Commercial competition is barely even competitive most of the time. And unlike war, where the hallmarks of victory are absolute dominance with a trail of destruction and misery, Burger King’s initiative is based on a fundamentally flawed view of commercial competition, one that demonstrates almost no recognition of innovation and growth – better competition mainly leads to better or cheaper products, which benefits consumers. War is miserable, sad and overwhelmingly destructive. There is absolutely no comparison possible between capitalism and war – and to suggest there is is highly dishonourable.

Secondly, many organisations seek to raise social welfare through corporate social responsibility programs. Burger King has decided that solving the problems of ‘world peace’ is how they believe they can raise social welfare. However, any CSR program must do two things. It must raise profits and it must raise social welfare. A great example is where Mars sets up manufacturing plants in regional towns where there is less opportunity for employment – thereby having a cheaper and more loyal workforce, while having the benefit of raising the employment prospects of small towns.

Raising social welfare without raising profits (as many so-called CSR programs do) is simply borrowed virtue – a lame attempt to seem like a nice company, as if their everyday activities were ugly and unworthy, so they undertake social activities to assuage their feelings of unworthiness. At best, Burger King’s connection with world peace is borrowed virtue. However, what is more likely is that Burger King will neither raise social welfare, nor will it raise profits, so it is simply delusional CSR. For anyone to think that a marketing gimmick such as this will increase sales of Whoppers and cause warring government leaders and terrorist organisations all over the globe to pause and reflect is simply delusional. Any thought that it could be ‘fun’ or ‘being in the spirit of doing the right thing’, fails to acknowledge that the primary role of marketers isn’t to have fun but to work incredibly hard to grow brands, grow distribution and grow product to increase profits.

If McDonald’s were to participate, it would help increase Whopper’s brand context, almost as if to regard the Whopper as an equal to the all conquering Big Mac, when the truth is quite different. Whopper sales are vastly lower than Big Mac sales. In coverage of the McWhopper attempt, the New York Times called Burger King “a perennial also-ran” who “even ceded its position as the world’s number two burger chain to Wendy’s’. Just as Kevin Rudd sent junior ministers to fight Malcolm Turnbull in an effort to position him as a less senior leader, Burger King are attempting at positioning their less famous burger as a peer, an equal. McDonald’s should always position the Big Mac as the leading global burger without peer. By even acknowledging that there could be a comparison between the two burgers either boosts the Whopper and/or reduces the Big Mac to a common competitor.

While the McWhopper may have been available only in one pop-up store, any further attempt to increase Burger King’s distribution into the much larger McDonald’s network via the McWhopper should be completely rejected. McDonald’s has 34,000 locations worldwide compared to 12,000 for Burger King; the smaller player being distributed by the bigger one benefits only the smaller player.

One of the most important reasons why McDonald’s were right to reject Burger King’s overtures was because of McDonald’s wonderful brand assets, particularly around the Big Mac. From the image of the Big Mac, to the line ‘two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun’, it’s as iconic a product as a Coke bottle, Vespa or Oreo cookie, or brand asset as the Michelin Man, Intel’s chime or Cadbury’s purple. It should never be adulterated, it should never be modified, and in a most McDonald’s-like manner, it should always remain utterly consistent. McDonald’s might never scale the culinary heights, but one of the keys to its success is that it’s consistently never shit, never disappointing. By changing the Big Mac, McDonald’s risks change, it risks inconsistencies, it risk s losing customers.

While neither Burger King nor McDonald’s advertisements have been very memorable, distinctive or fun for a very long time, using hollow slacktivism as a selling point is the lowest form of creativity, and something that most unimaginative advertising agencies do regularly in an attempt to win creative awards. From Coke delivery drones to lenticular outdoor that sends messages to children who have been abused by their carers, awards reels are filled with work that attempts to ‘make the world a better place’ – at least until judging is over.

McDonald’s CEO response that ‘A simple phone call will do next time’ is spot on. If Burger King truly wanted a sustainable, viable joint program, it may have reached out to McDonald’s in a more subtle way. However, if it was simply about creating buzz measured via tweets, media mentions and other vanity metrics, then it could be regarded as a success. But in terms of building a brand that does stand on its own, that has quality product, well remembered and well distributed, Burger King objectively fails on at least two of these three counts.

Burger King might have won this small PR battle, but they’re losing the war.

Why your brand should be as famous as Kim Kardashian’s bum.

Everyone knows who Kim Kardashian is, unless of course you have been living under a very very large rock. Kim Kardashian is…. well famous for being famous.

Most brands have far more value than Kim Kardashian, so why is she more famous? Every brand should strive towards being famous, and it’s possible, but we might have to take a few lessons from Kim.

How do I make my brand famous?…

Kim Kardashian is famous because she has very distinctive and memorable brand assets that she promotes incessantly. Kim Kardashian is defined by her consistent pout, overt cleavage, the alliteration in her name, the sound of her voice, her pop star husband, and of course her most prominent ASSet, that “broke the internet” a few weeks ago.

Along with being distinctive, Kim has a high reach fan base – her focus isn’t on an existing fan base, but on GROWING it. Like every brand, she loses people every day, but like the best brands, she acquires them in even greater numbers by spreading her fame to new people and new markets. A very effective acquisition strategy that every brand should emulate.

She’s currently on ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’, has a diary full of public appearances, a plethora of product endorsements, has her own fashion and fragrance collections, a mobile game for iPhone and Android, she is always in the news, on the front of gossip magazines, penetrating your Facebook feed, and even at a mall near you. She’s everywhere, you just can’t avoid her, and this is what your brand should strive towards. Even if you don’t know about her nor care about her, you probably recognise and remember her.

This is like ANY brand. Consumers generally don’t care and don’t share brand stories. People have enough trouble building relationships with family and friends let alone brands – hence why brands have to be hugely distinctive and seek fame in order to be successful. Don’t rely on fan bases. Don’t assume strong levels of passion or knowledge. Just have that same vain desperation for your brand to be famous that Kim has for herself.

Kim Kardashian’s success is thanks to her multiple distinctive assets that are seen everywhere. This is exactly what your brand should strive towards.

  1. Your brand should be distinctive. Create assets that are ownable and unique. Like the McDonald’s Golden Arches and Coca-Colas “Dynamic Ribbon” typeface.
  2. Be everywhere, show everyone your assets. Reach as many people as possible with your marketing message and make yourself famous

Everything is in a constant battle for attention and memory. Every brand competes with Kim Kardashian. Make sure your brand is distinctive and famous in order to succeed.

Apple’s T-shirt Box Photo

This is what makes Apple Apple.

Even the boxes that hold call centre employee t-shirts have been designed with the single sense of purpose, that incredible design aesthetic, that attention to detail and outstanding vision of what the company should be – a creator brand. This, along with photos of their employee job offer packs, shows the level of thought and strength of culture at the firm.

More pictures here: Apple Employee T-Shirt Unboxing Photos – Mac Rumors.

Anatomy of a social media disaster

Two recent campaigns by Australian organisations have caused a debate over trust in social media campaigns.

Tourism Queensland (TQ) recently launched a campaign with a difference; instead of attracting people to the “Sunshine State” via a traditional website, TQ created a site that advertised the “Best Job in the World”. The job, The Caretaker of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef (a brand ambassador role), was a 6 month contract paying $AUD150,000.

The earliest public response to this campaign was very positive. The social media sphere lit up with discussions about the campaign, heritage media covered the campaign, and the website itself, http://www.islandreefjob.com/ crashed after being overwhelmed with visitors from Australia and overseas.

A job applicant, “Tegan”, posted a video YouTube that demonstrated her passion for the job, going so far as to get a tattoo of Queensland on her shoulder. She also started a blog to demonstrate her passion, linked to a PayPal account in an effort to raise money to fund her job application. Another boost in coverage for the campaign. What followed has cast an enormous shadow over the entire campaign.

It has since been discovered by Marketing and Digital Media Blog Mumbrella that “Tegan” was in fact an employee of the advertising agency behind the campaign, and that she was asked to act “like a Big-Brother video application”.

“I thought it would be so obvious that it was fake, but I guess some people still fell for it including the lazy journalists who had nothing better to write about” said “Tegan”, also known as Cummins Nitro employee Rhiannon Craig.

Since then, another Australian campaign has been outed as a fake. It’s the story of “Heidi Clarke”, a girl who met a guy in a cafe, made some small talk and went their separate ways. He left his jacket behind, so “Heidi Clarke” created a YouTube video where she claimed “love at first sight”, and wanted to return a jacket he left at the cafe. The Australian media wanted to know – where was this man?

The “Today Show” had “Heidi Clarke” on as a guest. Smelling a fake, they asked her to look down the barrel of the camera and vow that it was genuine. She confirmed on national TV that it was. Since then, again, “Heide Clarke” has been outed as a fake, a woman hired by Naked Communications to promote a range of clothing for a major Australian retailer.

These examples of dishonest communications practices have brought to the fore the “Honesty ROI”, the code of conduct developed by the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).

The “Honesty ROI” has three key pillars: Honesty of Relationship, Honesty of Opinion and Honesty of Identity.

Honesty of Relationship:
Don’t shill (get your friends to represent you)
Don’t go undercover
Comply with cultural norms and regulations

Most pertinent to these cases,

“When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product which might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience) such connection must be fully disclosed.”

Honesty of Opinion:
Your opinion is your opinion;
Feel free to share it, but please:
Provide facts / links / proof points
Don’t misrepresent

Honesty of Identity
Kids can play dress up and have make believe friends; we can’t
Please practice full disclosure

Again, relevance to these cases are best described by the guideline:

“Campaign organizers should monitor and enforce disclosure of identity. Manner of disclosure can be flexible, based on the context of the communication. Explicit disclosure is not required for an obviously fictional character, but would be required for an artificial identity or corporate representative that could be mistaken for an average consumer”.

The organisations behind these campaigns (and the broader Australian marketing and communications industry) cannot be lulled into the false economy of measuring column inches and hits as the ultimate measure of campaign success. As I would say in this such campaign measurement, H.I.T.S. are How Idiots Track Success.

Tourism Queensland CEO Anthony Hayes has since admitted: “The simple answer is that we messed up”. PR isn’t about column inches, it’s about authenticity, trust and believable, honest communications across integrated channels. TQ may have won the column inches battle, but they lost the trust war; that’s what counts. Now, people aren’t sure whether any element of the campaign was real, or whether it was all an elaborate hoax, whether any of the positive claims made by TQ are believable. The public had their awareness raised, and their trust shattered. I think it’s a real shame for TQ. As for the Naked Communications campaign for the undisclosed Australian retailer, there has been no upside.

A lesson in honesty, opinion and identity – hopefully just growing pains for a burgeoning Australian digital media industry, not the sign of things to come.