Tag Archives: insight

Don’t blame clients for the death of good advertising

I read this post on Medium last night, by a guy called Scott Morrison.  It’s a chapter excerpt from a book called Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief: Advertising’s Next Generation.

I haven’t read the book.  It sounds pretty interesting.  I’ve got a pile of partly-read industry books gathering dust on my bedside table.  I prefer to read chapter excerpts and articles.  Most business books seem to me to be extended articles that should have stayed being articles.  But there’s not much money to be made from that, is there?  I’m not really all that cynical, because if someone asked me to write a chapter in a business book I’d be stoked.

Anyway, back to the point of this post.

This article, in short, bemoans the death of advertising that people want to talk about.

The kind of advertising people used to say they liked better than the TV shows.  Watercooler conversation stuff.

The kind of advertising that had a great big idea behind it.

And the article argues that clients (and agencies) are to blame for the end of the great advert.

You know, Smash, Hamlet (still makes me laugh), McCains (the song’s bloody well got stuck in my head now), FCUK, KitKat (perhaps my absolute favourite advert of ALL TIME), all those great campaigns that crop up in the ‘100 best’ compilation shows.

I think I’d like to counter this article in the following few ways:

  1. Is the big idea really gone?  I can think of some really fun, effective advertising campaigns from the last few years which have powerful ideas behind them, well planned and rooted in insight.  The brands that spring to mind are Lidl, Aldi, John Lewis, Volvo (watch this one if you watch any of them – amazing!)  People aren’t talking about this round the watercooler but they are sharing it in social media – sometimes in their tens of millions.
  2. The weird thing about this article is that it doesn’t mention how consumers have changed over the last 20 years.  They’re more sophisticated, they second screen, TV shows are much more interesting than the adverts and during the adverts they’re tweeting about the programme or IMDB-ing the cast…  They’re not seeing the adverts in the same way as they did 20 years ago.
  3. Thirdly, the article doesn’t talk about the power of integration – it’s thinking about old-school advertising, not the full integrated campaign.  It’s in an integrated campaign that the power of the central idea really comes to life.  Nowadays you have to be useful as well as entertaining, and the benefit of your proposition has to come across in what you do, not just what you say.  So the brands that stand out now are the ones who aren’t run by unrealistic expectations of their expensive advertising agency, they’re the ones who get their agencies to work together to ensure that ideas work across all channels, and in the way they behave in real life and on the web.

You can’t expect a huge boost sales off the back of an advert any more. TV advertising has its place but it’ll never have the impact it had pre-broadband, pre-smartphone.

Life’s not that simple anymore.

The answer isn’t to look for a more creative boutique agency, it’s to look for the best integrated team.

The best work comes from a tight team – and by that I mean where all agencies (including digital and media) and the client have had an input into the big idea from the initial drawing board stages.  Where all the different understandings of the audience, their behaviour throughout the customer journey, their needs, wants, goals, beliefs, prejudices, cultural ties, etc etc all come together and the best insight can be revealed and crafted.

So yes, it is down to clients to jump in and encourage their agencies to work together, to stop seeing the ad agency as the lead creative agency, to understand that the big idea can come from anywhere, and to see the value in the lots of little ideas that make connections that build a big idea in the mind of the consumer.

Perhaps there is a divide between clients and agencies that understand the best way to do integrated, and the ones that don’t.  As agencies we should blame ourselves for not articulating this better and for not standing up for what we really believe will have the best outcome for our clients.

I know I’m being idealistic – unrealistic – but I hope one day I am proved wrong.


Leave a comment

Filed under Work

5 craft skills of the digital strategist part 2: Qualitative analysis

So yesterday, we heard about why getting to grips with data is vital for digital strategists.

Today, it’s all about getting away from your computer and talking to real live people in real life:

2. Qualitative analysis

Probably the most important thing digital strategists need to do is ask ‘why would the consumer care about this?’ and yet all too often we don’t spend as much time with our target audiences as we should.

Ad agencies do, as their clients pay for them to hold focus groups, both to look for insights and to test their creative work.  Digital agencies tend to be seen as further down the food chain (although not always) and are supposed to just make things without questioning them too much – but we should be doing the same as our advertising counterparts and starting from first principles: what is the insight? What is going to work for the people who are actually going to use this?

Qual research is an art form and it doesn’t just mean focus groups, although moderation of groups is possibly the hardest and most pointless or useful qualitative thing you can do (depending on your point of view.)  I’ll probably write more about moderating at some point.  I kind of love and hate doing it all at the same time.

The good thing about groups is you can see what ‘real people’ say to each other about something – in a good group you can see real conversations about the topic unfolding in front of you.

The bad thing about groups is all the things people say are bad about focus groups – there’s always one opinionated person who biases the outcome, they bully everyone else into agreeing with them, people are on their guard and don’t say what they really feel, and so on.  You don’t get the truth in a group blah blah blah.  I don’t think groups are right for all digital projects, but they can be right for some things, for example, getting to understand the basics of what people think about brands, and to test different routes and territories.

Maybe you get better results from an online panel but so far I’m yet to be convinced.  No one seems to turn up for those, and they take forever.  You don’t get the immediate response you get in a real room.

I agree that interviews and user testing are more useful than groups for certain things, e.g. understanding how people use websites and for gathering detail.  But focus groups are useful and they should never be discounted altogether.

A skilled moderator will navigate the dynamic of the group pretty quickly, and stay on top of things.  They’ll tease the insightful stuff out of the quiet people and make sure the opinionated people feel heard but don’t dominate the chat.  A skilled moderator goes in and stays open to what people are saying all the way through.  Above all, you need to be a good listener and be aware that sometimes the subtext is more interesting than what people actually are actually saying.   Those are the skills digital strategists should have.

Maybe the strategists who are skeptical about groups just haven’t had decent research training.

Tomorrow, let’s have a change of scene and talk about why it’s important for digital strategists to think like web designers and have some of the skills – but be quite bad at them.

Leave a comment

Filed under Work

5 craft skills of the digital strategist part 1: Quantitative analysis

The role of the ‘digital strategist’ is a hard one to define, because it takes many forms, depending on type of agency, client, location, and a number of other variables I can’t think of right now.

Anyway, that’s already been written about quite a lot* and basically what being a digital strategist is, is what being any other kind of strategist should be, i.e. someone who understands their clients’ objectives and target audience needs and knows how to make the two meet somewhere usefully and beautifully in the middle…

I’m not talking about the kind of person you have to be, to be a digital strategist either.  That has also been done.

Instead, I decided to write about the types of skills that come in useful when you are being a strategist in this so-called digital age.  I came up with so much stuff and it ended up being so long, I’ve split it into 5 parts, which I’ll run all this week.  I’ve probably not nearly covered all the skills, there’s such a variety of people who are ‘strategists’, but these are the skills valued by the strategy team at Equator.

So here’s part 1, which is all about

1. Quantitative analysis

Back in the day, as a junior planner in an ad agency, I got all trained up in using TGI and running data to understand and segment my target audiences and look for interesting correlations and so on.  Do they still do this in creative agencies?  I know media agencies still do. (I’ve not done a TGI run for about 6 years since I gatecrashed Mediacom on behalf of a mutual client.)  I hope they do.  Hopefully the questions are keeping up with technology a bit faster than they used to.

No matter, the point is more that digging around in data is really important.  Not only do you find things that are interesting about the people you want to engage with, you also learn to ask lots of different questions in order to find the best route in to your strategy.  You also obviously have facts and not just hunches to inspire, or back up your strategies.

For digital agencies, there’s not that much point in signing up to TGI, but there’s plenty of other useful data sources out there.  The obvious ones are Google Analytics and Comscore, and then there’s nice bespoke ones agencies like People Pulse that MRY/Digitas LBi have (very jealous of that).  YouGov profiler is a nice free one if you’re just looking for a view on who your ‘average customer’ is.

I was once told in an appraisal, a long time ago, that my love for digging around in data was killing my creativity…  So a bit part of this skill is always staying on top of the detail and not getting too hung up on the numbers either.  Like I say, they can lead to the insight that leads to the route, but sometimes you’re better going into the data once you have a hunch and trying to prove that instead.

So there you are.

And hey, I haven’t mentioned ‘big data’ once.

Tomorrow,I’ll talk about qualitative analysis.  You know, focus groups and that kind of thing.


*The role of the digital strategist has been the subject of debate across a great many other blogs for quite some time now, and if you’re interested, here are some articles you could read:

Why the role of the digital strategist needs to evolve // Jinal Shah (Pretty comprehensive overview of the role, with very interesting comment discussion on the role too.)

The no-bullshit strategist // Matt Daniels (A thought provoking response to Shah’s analysis.)

Why the world doesn’t need another digital strategist // Mark Pollard (Pollard says, we actually do need digital strategists, just not the way you think we do.)


Leave a comment

Filed under Work

Speculation about location based status

I saw the infographic below earlier today on Griffin Farley’s blog and it’s been stuck in my head ever since.

It’s new stats about how Twitter and other social media is being used.

The thing that really stands out is the high proportion of location based Facebook statuses and tweets coming from airports.  I think there is an insight here that could be built upon.

Why do people want to tell people they’re at the airport so much?

Is it because they want to show people how important they are, they have to travel for work?

Is it because they are a wee bit (or a big bit) scared of flying and they want to ‘mark’ their tracks in the sand so to speak?

Or is it just that they are bored and want everyone to know they are bored, is it just something to do before they get to where they are going?

I wonder if people are more likely to write their status or tweet about airports when they’re coming home, or when they’re going away?

I wonder what use airlines – or other brands – could do with the answers to these questions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Work

Rules are important, even when there aren’t any

I wrote about rules a while back and how I find they can offer a wee window into a subculture, and give us some insight into the people who follow them (and make them and break them.)

My esteemed associate Sidepipe brought this Rapha article about rules to my attention.  It takes a stand against rules, suggesting that having a long list of rules indicates a lack of confidence more than anything else, and then suggests 3 pretty cute alternative rules for cycling involving sandwiches and friends.

I think this observation about confidence is very important.  Rules help you fit in, in the beginning, and then later when you feel like you’re part of something you can play about, push the boundaries.  In the same way as artists learn techniques before they can really effectively express themselves on paper, the moment you stop saying you follow the rules is as important as the rules themselves.

Leave a comment

Filed under Play, Work

Some great sources about ideas, insights, and so forth

Browsing around, here are some articles about ideas, insight and planning that I’ve found very helpful, interesting, challenging, useful, thought-provoking and so on…

Seth Godin: Where do ideas come from?

This is a list of 20 places ideas come from.  I like the way he makes ideas sound like living things, with lives of their own.  Reminds me that we have to knock ideas into shape if we want them to help us achieve what we want them to.

Dave Trott: The difference between an insight and an idea

Useful thinking around the important difference between insight and ideas, that the latter really can’t exist without the former.

Little Scraps of Paper is a Posterous blog…

…which has lots of videos of creative people talking about their creative practices, where they get their ideas from.

Martin Weigel’s provocative article, Stop fetishising the insight

Great article, reminds us that even astonishing insights stop being ‘Aha’ revelations once they are expressed and become common knowledge/received wisdom. I hope I have understood his argument in that it leads me to think that although every idea needs  insight, we shouldn’t waste time on perfecting the insight itself, gilding lilies, flogging dead horses, making silk purses etc etc.  Our challenge is to not stop at the insight but to push for better ideas, make sure whatever we do is useful and true.

Tom Wagner’s Approaches to ideas and a proposed metaphor

Superb metaphor: ‘creative hedging’ = fits well with the current trend for no-process, no-formal brief protocol agile planningness…

Bobulate is…

…chock full of common sense and genius

Ideas are awesome

…is full of lovely ideas, unsurprisingly


Great stuff.

But the She Says sub-question (do women and men have different approaches to creativity) has got me thinking.  Where are all the women blogging about ideas?  Why am I looking for them separately now?  Why aren’t they being referenced as much as men?

Here are some women blogging about good ideas and their thinking:

Heather LeFevre – a planning director in Amsterdam who runs an annual planner survey

The Made by Many blog features interesting women

Uberblond (although she is taking a break.)

Farrah Bostic – who curates a list of women to watch, which rather thrillingly includes my friend Nicki Sprinz

Now I’m starting to explore her blogroll and the blogs from there.  There’s a world of new untapped stuff to read – how exciting!


Filed under Work