What a weekend to spend in Ireland. Spring announced its arrival as the sun came out to play, the Mahon tribunal dominated the airwaves offering a hint of a future Ireland that won’t stand for the sins of the past and over three days across three venues in Dublin, Change Nation came to town.



Change Nation, the brainchild of Paul O’Hara of Ashoka, brought 50 of the worlds leading social innovators to Ireland with a brief of exploring how they could bring their proven social solutions to Ireland. The event, which focused on actions, has generated over 200 commitments from all sectors of Irish society to making this happen. Politicians, the business community, the public sector, the citizen sector – have all committed to getting involved and as individuals making a real difference.

Positivity is a word that I have used before in describing spending time in the company of our friends at Ashoka. As the sun shone on Saturday morning at Farmleigh, this sense permeated everywhere. In an Ireland where the people have been continually pummeled by politicians of questionable value and values, largely unrepentant bankers, and a seemingly never ending stream of austerity measures, there was a generosity of spirit at Farmleigh not just inspired by great ideas but also the sense that we can be part of it and we ourselves make a difference.

The world of communication can play its part too. I’m delighted to say that the advertising community was well represented in making our commitments to making a difference. Advertising is frequently portrayed as a purveyor of all ills, only highlighted when the debate centres on the perceived evils of alcohol and fatty foods. Advertising can and should be used to help us tell the stories that ensure a stronger future for our nation. We’re good at it and Change Nation affords us a series of options to show case our skills. There are plenty of opportunities beyond Change Nation too that our politicians should consider embracing our industry to help spread the word rather than using us as fodder in avoiding addressing more fundamentally seeded ills.

Change Nation itself was a triumph of communication. From radio interviews to serial tweeting, Newspaper supplements to posters, and a dynamic website that in itself reflects the spirit of the endeavour, the power of storytelling and communication shone through. I recommend anyone to spend some time scanning their website to get a sense of what happened last weekend and to see if you think you can make a difference. Click here for a video to get you started!





Catalysing Curiosity

March 13, 2012

The ever thought-provking TED organisation again today provided a lovely piece of inspiration for anyone for whom ideas are a central part of their work.

They’ve launched a series called ‘Questions Noone Knows the Answers to’. TED curator Chris Anderson narrates us through an introduction where he talks about the idea that when you’re a child, you assume that all questions have answers, and that it’s not until later that you realise that actually, there are lots of unanswered questions out there. This series will explore a number of these questions.

The first exploration in the series is the Fermi Paradox, which revolves around the question: “Why can’t we see evidence of alien life?”. With such a high probability that alien civilisations exist, why is there no convincing evidence of any? What’s really interesting is the conclusion that is drawn; that either answer, proof that no other life exists in the universe, or indeed proof that there is plenty of other life out there, is equally amazing.

We hope you’ll find it as thought-provoking as we did. We’re excited (not in a geeky way) about the rest of the series, so as long as TED keep making them, we’re going to post them here!



A news story from the US was highlighted to us this week by our good friends at the PML group (thanks guys!).


The story comes from the New York Times and it details an incident where Target, the US retailer, figured out from the purchase behaviour of one of their customers (in this instance a teenage girl), that she was pregnant. Based on the information, they sent her some coupons and offers for baby products.  Her father, who knew nothing of the pregnancy, complained to his local store, which he accused of trying to encourage teenage pregnancy. Soon afterwards, he learned that his daughter was in fact pregnant, and in turn apologised to the store.

Still, the story highlights a real issue; that with the amount of information they gather about you, sometimes retailers learn your secrets before your closest friends and family. It’s one thing when they use information about you on an aggregate scale, learning more about a group to which you belong (for example, about ‘parents’ as a group of consumers), but it’s really another when they use information about you as an individual and then send you personalised communications based on that.

Unsurprisingly, Target discovered that this freaked people out. After all, being told: “Because you’re pregnant, we have this great offer for you”, is a bit creepy when you haven’t told them you were pregnant in the first place. Their solution was to be more subtle about how they communicate what they know about you; they still know you’re about to be a new parent and will still send you coupons for baby goods, but instead, they’ll hide them amongst coupons for other goods. They found that this approach worked better and more coupons were redeemed as a result.

As marketers, we automatically think that the more we know about a person, the easier it is to sell to them. But, it’s worth bearing in mind that the audience to whom we’re selling doesn’t want to be reminded of the fact that we spend our days trying to manipulate them. Because of the pitfalls that lurk online, consumers are being more careful with their personal information. They’re also getting savvier in the offline world, and are thinking more and more about what advertising agencies and marketing departments are up to.

So, when we find a really amazing nugget of an insight that tells us something really personal about our consumer; maybe it’s best not to tell that consumer that we’ve discovered this about them, personally. Special K can tell me that they know that women are figure-conscious, but I don’t want them to tell me personally that they believe that I’m self-conscious about the way I look.  I don’t need my breakfast cereal to make me cry.

In a world where consumers are becoming more and more careful about their personal information, perhaps the rule of thumb will need to be, the more personal the insight, the more broadcast the communication.




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