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.

How Facebook Reactions will change social media

Facebook has confirmed it’s now testing a new Reactions feature in Ireland and Spain which may be soon rolled out worldwide. Essentially the Reactions feature is similar to the traditional ‘Like’ button but it provides users with a spectrum of emotional responses. The new addition will allow users to Like, Love, Haha, Yay, Wow, Sad or Angry a post.

Users will be able to click one of the Reactions located in the same position as the current ‘Like’ button. The Reactions are symbolised by an emoticon which reflects a particular mood. This change allows users to express themselves beyond just ‘liking’ something.

One of the biggest problems with social media is the limit of expression and the absence of nuance. On Facebook in particular, there has been a tendency to react in bipolar extremes, either liking something, or trash canning and abusing it. Twitter is similar in that you only have a 140 character word limit to communicate, making it difficult to express rational thought – only an extreme of emotion or outrage. For example, if someone announces the death of a family member on Facebook it seems odd and actually quite disrespectful to ‘like’ it, however, with Facebook Reactions you will be able to express sadness through the sad option which would be an acceptable response.
This new spectrum of emotional responses on Facebook could have multiple implications. What could this mean for the future of social media?

Like inflation
We may see “likes” fade as we all migrate to “Love”. This may lead to a furthering of extremes of expression online.

Social sharing Button inflation
If Facebook introduces 6 new engagement metrics this will take up a lot of space on third party websites – physically going from “Like this” to a wide variety of buttons on any given web page. Imagine what will happen if everyone else does this – Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks all deciding to move from simple, single buttons, to thirty to forty variations of reaction to a post.

Big data and attribution marketing
Will the intersection between location, mood, natural language programming and “Reactions” give us the most advanced view of mood, attitude and mental health ever assembled? This may have a broader effect on our understanding of nuance of human emotion, and the science of why we buy, what we are aroused by, and what impresses us.

Increased engagement
People will be able to react to posts beyond just liking them. This opens up far higher engagement on individual posts. More options for engagement will most likely increase user engagement which may increase Facebook’s ability to charge money for advertising – as engagement rates rise.

Sentiment analysis
We will be better able to analyse which content causes which emotional response by analysing the Reactions.

Emotion overload
Are these emotions just the beginning? Will Facebook bring in the whole spectrum of human emotions?

Emotional targeting
Will the new addition spark a new way of targeting? Will Facebook allow advertisers to target users based on their current mood? If one person has an angry reaction to various posts will advertisers be able to target them specifically? ‘Angry, stressed? Take a holiday. Airfares on sale NOW”.

Proving people DON’T love brands
This will most likely prove that people don’t actually ‘Love’ brands. We may blame the thought that people don’t “Love” advertising, but it’s not the advertising they don’t love, it brands. Most of the time, people barely like brands, let alone love them. This will undoubtedly lead to a backlash by less intelligent marketers that in order to raise “Love” metrics, we should reduce the amount of branding on our advertisements. The opposite is true – we should never assume people love our brands, only assume people have no interest or have forgotten our brands – and in doing so, assume every piece of communication is the first piece of communication people will ever see. Don’t worry about “Love”.

From search to social to emotional discovery of brands
Will it impact on Facebook’s algorithm? Will Facebook show users more Loved content vs Liked content? In the past, we discovered information via search. Increasingly, we discover information via social referral. Now, we discover via attribution marketing fed with big data. So, emotional discovery may become a key driver of information discovery – people who are permanently grumpy may receive more bad news. People who are permanently outraged will receive hand-wringing news of global injustice on a consistent basis. People who are happy may continue to be served fantastic memes.

YouTube already has a dislike option and it doesn’t impact on anything at all. People don’t pay it much attention. Will this be any different?
Either way this new addition will provide users with a better way to express their emotions. As one PENSO team member expressed: “I love them, I’ll use them all the time”.

Read my article in Mumbrella here.

IBM Watson API: Artificial intelligence as a Service

In the past supercomputing was only accessible to large corporations who could afford to fork out tens of millions of dollars to set them up. However, with the rapid advancement of technology, computing has become much more affordable and accessible. Nowadays you don’t have to spend millions of dollars to access some of the world’s most powerful computer systems. In fact IBM is offering some of their Watson services to developers for free during the beta period.

Watson is an artificially intelligent system designed by IBM to process information in a more natural and human like manner. Watson continues to get smarter by tracking user feedback.

IBM is now offering developers the ability to use Watson via their cloud platform, BlueMix.

The current Watson services IBM are offering for public use are:

  • Concept Expansion: Maps euphemisms or colloquial terms to more commonly understood phrases
  • Concept Insights: Explore the concepts behind the input, identifying associations
  • Language Identification: Identifies the language in which text is written
  • Machine Translation: Globalise on the fly. Translate text from one language to another
  • Message Resonance: Communicate with people with a style and words that suits them
  • Question and Answer: Direct responses to users inquiries fuelled by primary document sources
  • Relationship Extraction: Intelligently finds relationships between sentences components (nouns, verbs, subjects, objects, etc.)
  • Speech To Text: This service provides highly accurate, low latency speech recognition capabilities.
  • Tradeoff Analytics: Helps make better choices under multiple conflicting goals. Combines smart visualisation and recommendations for tradeoff exploration
  • User Modeling: Improved understanding of people’s preferences to help engage users on their own terms
  • Visual Recognition: Analyses the visual content of images and videos to understand their content without requiring a textual description

This is a big deal for businesses around the world because this access and these capabilities were previously only available to large corporations and researchers. This means anyone has access to the forefront of technology. Now developers can use these services to easily build applications that do very advanced things for minimal initial investment.

For example the Visual Recognition service could form the basis of a digital asset management system which could automatically tag and categorise uploaded images and videos. User feedback could be fed back into the system to progressively improve the quality of the tagging and categorisation.

The Message Resonance service could be used to help improve the effectiveness of EDM campaigns. You could input social media feeds of customers and then have it analyse a draft EDM to see if the word choice fits the audience.

By making it easy for developers to interface with Watson, they are providing the AI with a firehose of learning material. It is likely that the capability, accuracy, and raw power of this and similar services will grow ever more rapidly in the coming months and years.

The service is still in beta, and while the live demos are hit and miss, they provide a glimpse of what is possible.


Three things we can learn from Apple’s $US18 billion net profit

Apple recently reported a record profit for the past financial quarter. The $US18 billion net profit is the largest quarterly profit to be posted by any company ever. Apple has gone from strength to strength, so what can we learn from one of the most successful companies in the world?

We can learn three important things from Apple to ensure success, prosperity, and growth for brands around the world.

The three keys to brand growth are:

1) Good product

Apple is a market leader when it comes to product innovation, improvements, and updates. They are not known for being the first in market, but they are known for having better products than everyone else. For example they have not yet released the Apple Watch, they have waited to learn from other similar products so they can improve and innovate their offering. Apple always thinks of the end user when developing their products which is evident in their sleek UX which focuses on minimising options to reduce complexity. This design philosophy is derived from Hicks Law which states that decision time increases as the number of alternatives increase. When you have a good product, people are happy to buy it. It’s simple, people won’t buy bad products. There is a reason why Apple sold over 74 million iPhone 6s in 90 days (this equates to 9 every second).

2) Well remembered

It’s highly likely that when you think about mobile phones you think of the Apple iPhone first. Your brand should strive to be the first brand thought of in your category, if people don’t know your brand, they won’t buy it. Apple spent over $US1 billion on advertising in 2013 just to let everyone know they exist. This may sound extravagant, but it only equates to roughly 6% of their profits. Apple has a very distinctive clean and minimalist style of advertising where the product is always the hero, which means when you see an Apple ad, you know it’s for Apple. Apple has built such strong distinctive brand assets over time such as their white head phones, sleek rounded product design, the “i” prefix in their product names, and the Apple logo. They are clearly recognisable in all of their product categories thanks to their distinctive look and consistent, wide reach advertising.


3) Well distributed

Apple stores are hugely successful, they generate the most revenue per square foot than any other retailer in the US. However, only a portion of their products are sold in Apple stores with significant revenues coming from retail partners such as Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy, AT&T, Verizon, and numerous online stores. Apple takes a high reach approach to distribution, their products are always in a nearby store, or a click away. If your product is not readily accessible or available to consumers, they will seek alternatives. Make sure your product is everywhere that potential consumers may be.


What makes things popular? Often, new stuff is popular, just because it’s new. It’s there – and it wasn’t there before. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.

This thought struck me as I was walking down the street on the weekend. I walked past a razor shop, and saw a whole heap of brand new electric razors. All the latest bells and whistles in razor technology. Genuine improvement, genuinely better than the electric razors of two years ago. Two doors up the road was JB Hi-Fi, all of the latest and greatest in music, games, movies and technology. New stuff. But very little of it was an improvement. Some of it was simply slightly different, but newly released.

So, how do punters differentiate between the mass of existing ideas and products – they have a generic choice:

  • Stuff that is better
  • Stuff that is new

Thriller should be in the top album charts – always. As should Saturday Night Fever. Along with AC/DC’s Back in Black, and Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard soundtrack. They are some of the best albums of all time – timeless classics, incredible artistry, superb songwriting and incredible production. However, they are nudged out by the newly released such as the utterly appalling Susan Boyle. It’s the same with films; Star Wars should be showing in cinemas all over the world these holidays, in the top selling DVDs, but instead we get Chipmunks – The Squeakquel. Sales charts are dominated by the newest releases, not the best.

Broadly speaking, companies with a strong focus on technology, research and development are good at making things better. For example, electric razors, microwaves, DVD players, iPods, computer software all get better with every iteration. Computer games are the perfect example (in stark contrast to other creative entertainment) where sequels are consistently better than the previous product. They get better. People are used to the new being better, because these companies train their customers to recognise that new = better. They largely deliver on that promise.

Again, broadly speaking – movie sequels and follow up albums suck, but still find a level of popularity because they are new. Politicians struggle to convince voters that they have an ongoing bias for policy innovation – because they generally don’t do anything anything better, they do things that are new. When politicians do genuinely reform, where they do make things better – witness Australia over the past 15 years – it’s regarded as a rarity. The media’s love affair with many politicians is often based on them not being better, but being NEWsworthy. Restaurants don’t often do things better, they do things that are new. New dishes, new menus, new decor, new music. The ones that do it better outlast the ones that do new things.

Subjectivity does play a role here of course, so these organisations expend a massive amount of effort in convincing people that their new is better, even though it’s generally not. Politicians try and convince people that their new policy will lead them to a far better quality of life. The restaurants try and convince their diners that their new dishes are the best they’ve ever tasted. Movie distributors try to fill their trailers with quotes saying their show is “the funniest film ever”. Music companies rarely have releases that are better than things past, but they are just new, so they try in vain to prove that they are better: “Madonna’s best album yet”. They must convince people with all of their might that new = better.

So, why are things popular if they are only new – not better? why the hell do people fall for it? Because these organisations make these new products remarkable.

Three types of remarkable:

  • Remarkable: Different, incredible, reactionary, inspiring – genuine innovation
  • Re-Markable: Provides people with a new way of looking at / using an existing product
  • Remark-able: Worthy of remark and discussion due to an overwhelming story or point of interest

Some things have two of these qualities (Susan Boyle – fat competition winner that you talk about with your friends, singing old songs in a new way), some have all three (iPod – amazingly innovative means of listening to music in a new way that you want to tell your friends about).

If you can be remarkable, you can rise above the vast back catalogues of human creation, rise above the better, and simply become the new – therefore implying a sense of better. Not to say that’s better, it’s simply remarkable.

So which category do you or your organisation fall into? New or Better? Either? What steps can you take to be both?