I spent last Tuesday afternoon being inspired by our friends at Ashoka (www.ashoka.ie). If ever an organisation lived up to its tag line it’s them. Everyone can be a changemaker. Seeing the impact that people like Steve Collins (www.validnutrition.org) is making in addressing the treatment of malnutrition in Africa or how Mary Nally (www.thirdagefoundation.ie) is empowering the rich resource of the older people in our communities is truly amazing.

Mary Robinson (www.realizingrights.org) spoke of not getting caught up in the gloom of the moment but to look to the opportunity of the future. For her, and it was the theme of the forum, it was looking at the effects of climate change and how these are inextricably linked to an individual’s right to development and human rights. She feared for the world that we will bequeath to our grandchildren as, in Africa in particular, people are forced to become climate refugees. We need to give access to low carbon technology and she used the example of how the mobile phones can revolutionise people’s lives in Africa.

Karl-Henrik Robert, founder of The Natural Step (www.naturalstep.org), charmed us with his story of how to build an inclusive programme for change as he has done in Sweden from communities and scientists to politicians and kings, roping in the media along the way.

On the day that not too far away the banks of Ireland were being further exposed for their profligate pasts, the sense of optimism and positivism were tangible. There appear to be many commonalities to the success of the Ashoka Fellows. These include the skill to identify a solution to a social problem and the inability to walk away from it and leave it to someone else; the ability to spread their vision to others and empower the people around them to share and implement their vision; a passion and determination to see things through to the end. In many ways these character traits resonated with me and Neasa’s recent post “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”.  Ashoka’s culture not only lives and breathes this sentiment; it changes people’s lives along the way.



Yellow Box

March 30, 2010

Driving home yesterday evening, I stopped the right side of a yellow box which allowed another driver to turn right and join the traffic queue.  But as I noticed the driver struggle to straighten his car in the small space of the yellow box that lay ahead of him, whilst behind him there was acres of space, it struck me that the yellow box is incorrectly placed.  At such a junction, the box should be placed further forward to allow cars to join traffic easier and without causing a further obstruction to cars going the other way.  As I continued my route home, I noticed that every yellow box was the same.  Where am I going with this I hear you ask?  Well, if given the chance, I’d love to share my observation with someone who could actually do something about this, or at least hear from them why they designed them that way.  There might be a perfectly logical engineering reason behind it that I haven’t thought of.  But there’s no such opportunity to do so, well easily anyway.  I’m not the kind of person to write letters to my local politician / counsellor etc, I don’t feel that passionately about most issues.

In this day and age of consumer power, why haven’t the people who run our country tapped into this huge opportunity?  Don’t they care what we have to say?  Would we use it in a constructive manner or just abuse it?  Either way, I think they should at least try.  If my government had a forum where I could visit and tell him that the entrance to our estate has potholes, or the sequence of traffic lights at some junctions is awful, then that would be a brilliant brand experience for me, probably the first when it comes to politics.  We’ve got Your Country Your Call, a brilliant initiative by Áras an Uachtaráin, to get the country back to its best.  But what about what’s already there?  Who do we call on for that?  Who’s there to listen to our suggestions, our problems and our solutions?

Upon discussing this with Claire, she pointed me in the direction of http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/7484600/Every-citizen-to-have-personal-webpage.html

Turns out Gordon Brown is thinking along the same lines as me, I’m going to take that as a good thing.


Free Riding

March 30, 2010


I was in the city centre the other day waiting for the Aircoach when a taxi pulled up and the driver asked, “Do you want to come with me for the same price as the Aircoach?”. I agreed. The Aircoach wasn’t due for another ten minutes and the taxi would get me to the airport more quickly.

There were already 6 people in the taxi, so with 7 people that meant that the driver was making around €50 for his troubles. Not a bad little earner. Of course, he was cheating, a little. He was using the infrastructure the Aircoach has invested in, to sell his own service.

The same principle of free riding can work for brands. It might be cheating a little, but it’s one way in which the little guys can compete. If we believe that certain brands embody certain values, then it makes sense that where one brand has gone before, another can join in. Where this extends to blatant counterfeiting, it is, obviously, illegal. But where a brand can mirror the values of a larger brand in more subtle ways, it can bask in that brand’s glow, for a relatively minimal cost.

I would argue that brands like Apple, as a best in class example, embody their brand values so completely that those values, where seen elsewhere, become reminiscent of the brand. Things are now ‘Apple-y’.

Where a more minor player doesn’t have the resources to create that sort of brand value on its own, it might make sense to free ride on someone else’s.


What lies beneath

March 21, 2010

From Martin Bailie's presentation at the BrainFoodStore Digital Conference

Advertising Focus Groups have been getting quite the public battering recently – from speakers at our recent BrainFoodStore to commentary in Ireland’s MadMen on RTE. In many cases, the critics are making a very valid point. When qualitative research is done right, it can be hugely insightful. However, it is highly dependent on the skill of the moderator.

Poor moderators skim the surface of a research topic. They take the first response as the real answer and look to the group consensus for an insight relevant to everyone.  Good moderators draw out deeper levels of discussion. They delve into an individual, to find the insights which drive us all.  Qualitative analysis requires an understanding of human psychology, which the best researchers develop through training or intuition, but many don’t have at all.

The challenge with all consumer research, whether quantitative or qualitative, is the limits of what people can actually tell you.

The average person can’t tell you how to create compelling advertising and they don’t know how to design products which will sell. They also can’t tell you the ins and outs of their decision making process, when it comes to brands, products and purchasing – because they don’t really know.

90% of our thoughts are unconscious.

So just asking consumers what they think is no longer enough. I’m just back from our OMG Insight Conference, where both OMD France and OMD Germany shared with us some pioneering approaches into subconscious research. These ranged from using imagery tasks and semiotics, to using implicit association tests. All of their research aims to go beyond what people say and pick up on their unconscious feelings and biases – a much more powerful predictor of behaviour.

Brave new frontiers which bring us one step closer to understanding people better. But there is no holy grail and in reality, we need to keep exploring lots of different routes from subconscious associations to observational research, to the burgeoning fields of neuroscience. All important little pieces of the big puzzle.


There are two challenges for musicians these days:

 1)      How do I make money? With illegal download websites all the rage, artists are struggling to make any profit off music sales.

 2)      How do I get myself known? This was always an issue but possibly easier to crack than the first problem.

There was much talk of ‘the end of the music industry’ a couple of years ago due to declining year on year album sales and revenues down 10-15% each year from 2002 – 2008. People are hunting for music online, and it’s all too easy to download for free on illegal websites, such as limewire.  Neasa has talked to us before about the new trend of free, and how people expect most things digital to be free, apart from when they get a super premium service which they are willing to pay a small fee for. (And the online newspaper paid for content debate is ongoing, with New York Times due to launch paid content in 2011.)

At the same time, Apple have just announced their ten billionth iTunes download, so perhaps the music industry isn’t in the dire straits it feared it would be. And the public is still demonstrating a thirst for music, new and old. Concerts are selling out, and the number of music festivals is increasing every year – recession or no recession. Vantastival, for example is the new family music festival in County Louth launching  Summer 2010.

So, (given that iTunes is alive and kicking and gigs and music festivals are on the increase), we need to then crack problem one. How? ONLINE! Facebook, twitter, MySpace, blogs, Facebook again etc. And any name and number can be found by the click of a mouse. Easy! Well, time will tell. My current project is the Davy Lewis Band. I’ll let you know how I get on. Check out their music at: http://www.myspace.com/davylewismusic. And Hot Press review below. We are living in a different era (thank god for online!). 


Ignition 5

March 8, 2010

Philippa & Vanessa

So we all had a great night at the Radio Advertising Awards on Friday, none more so than our sister agency Cawley Nea who took home the Grand Prix.  Having a discussion later about the quality of radio creative, one of the party commented that the only way to forward the case of radio advertising, is to make it part of the culture. Strategy is all well and good, but it doesn’t impact much wider than management meetings. If you have a culture of creating great radio advertising, that’s what everyone does. Because when culture meets strategy, culture wins every time.

This is equally true in thinking about how businesses perform generally, in creativity, innovation, client service and any other desirable trait you’d like to promote.

Company culture is the sum of all the “this is the way we do things around here” type behaviours. It is the combination of leader personalities, the type of people they choose to hire and the relationships they have with each other. Strategies are a top down management product which can be developed and announced overnight. Culture is a collection of habits. It takes time to establish and time to change.

Our increasingly transparent world where companies can be exposed and embarrassed by vigilant bloggers and rogue tweeters, makes it even less feasible to separate company culture and brand identity. In our most recent wave of ID, we looked at the brands perceived by Irish youth as ethical and unethical. The results were telling. They were clearly drawing on much wider impressions of these companies to inform how they felt about “the brand”.

In the new order, marketing needs to be inbuilt, an intrinsic part of your company culture, to be credible. Everything about your company – how you treat your employees, your customers, your partners – defines your culture, and therefore defines your brand. As in life , as always, if you want to influence outside perceptions, you need to look inside first.


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